How Coronavirus Is Crushing Us And What We’re Doing

There was a bit of hesitance to even write a blog about this. Usually, I reserve these topics for achievements or optimistic updates and always find it easy to be friendly and upbeat. Today is different.

Instead of being in a social setting, I don’t get to paint a picture of a cheerful world, as with most of our blogs. Instead, I’m sitting in my home, hiding from the pollen and coronavirus. The high today was around 85 in Atlanta and it is very, very quiet outside.

By the end of 2018, we had put together a massive marketing/product plan to help us finally build the company we had always wanted. Momentum was building and things were finally starting to feel good. The last 6 months have all been records for Faretrotter and our traffic. We were about to reach a major milestone and slowly creeping on 1,000 daily searches. The uptick was going to warrant an additional hire.

And then Friday the 13th rolled around. Overnight, our traffic dropped 90%. Gulp.

As it would turn out, Faretrotter is just one of the hundreds of travel companies experiencing this. There’s a bit of comfort in the solidarity, but still a very sour taste abundant throughout the industry and flat out depression.

Most of our users search for transportation for one to two hundred mile trips. These are usually day trips, excursions, or weekend trips. We also serve quite a bit of travel within and around cities, as we have 90% of the top public transportation systems by ridership on our platform. Additionally, we serve long-distance trips just as much. Between the travel bans, social distancing, and stay-at-home mandates, nobody has a reason to simply travel anymore – near or far.

Over the past 18 months, the tools that proved themselves most valuable were our learned skills. Things we had studied and applied ourselves within. One of our best strengths is aggregating data and making something meaningful out of it, which is what we have been doing since 2018 to get on this growth curve. The only thing left to do was the marketing side of things, to be discrete. And now that the market is 10% of what it used to be, we are no different than a rudderless sailboat with shredded sails.

Out of thin air, I get an email from TJ at Standard Code, asking who had availability to assist in building a coronavirus dashboard for every county in the United States, called the Coronavirus Maps Project. He sent me two things – one to a spreadsheet with links to every state’s department of health website and second, a request to get polyline data for four or five states.

Faretrotter’s technology is best described as a geospatial multimodal route search engine. What that means is that we use geolocation and coordinates to make appropriate travel recommendations for every applicable mode of transportation a given query. We’ve worked quite a bit with various Postgres GIS extensions, Arcgis datasets, disparate data sources, scraping technologies, Mapbox integrations, and polyline derivations for every mode of transportation in the world. Based on where somebody is starting, there’s a level and threshold for how somebody will decide whether to fly or take the bus or train. These technologies allow our contextualizing-magic to happen. And that’s what this project needed.

The next day I harvested the polygons and political boundaries for every county in the United States. In the next two days, I built a small API to fetch, clean, and return (just about) every county’s coronavirus data.

In the past two days, we’ve integrated the Coronavirus API into the Faretrotter API – in order to give it higher bandwidth and user restrictions. But, despite the Faretrotter has different service levels and SLAs, we went on completely remove all usage restrictions to the API and make it open to everybody.

While there’s quite a bit of devastation happening in the travel industry, we can all do our small bit in the world to make it better. No idea whether or not the Covid API will gain steam or lose momentum, but it’s the best we can do with our skills.

You can access the API documentation here, where you can see examples and learn how to get started in accessing the API.