Jack Blundell developed the RouteBuddies app. Credit: RouteBuddies
Jack Blundell developed the RouteBuddies app. Credit: RouteBuddies

Safety app for Cardiff women and LGBTQ+ community aims to go UK wide

Jack Blundell developed the app by himself using only his MacBook and says that its popularity is growing

A FORMER Cardiff University software engineering student has launched a free app which aims to keep women and the LGBTQ+ community safe and reduce street harassment in the city.

The app was officially launched on February 3 and hundreds attended a launch party that was held on March 3 in social club Misfits in Cathays.

“Things are going extremely well, we’ve got new developers on the team now and some new marketing people, things are progressing,” said developer Jack Blundell.

The 23-year-old started developing the app on his MacBook in 2019 and said that he has been working on the project on and off over the last few years.

“Every time I was out, I’d see something on the news, I’d have a friend who was attacked or something else would happen and it would pull me back in to continue,” he said. “It took a long time but I finally got there.”

How it works

It aims to help women, students, and members of the LGBTQ+ community find walking buddies of three or more people.

Users are asked to choose from a list of gender identities during the sign-up process.

The app also uses verification checks to make it as safe as possible and ensure that users are who they say they are.

For example, users must take a selfie, which will then be visible to others on the app and upload a photo of a valid passport or driver’s licence. They aren’t able to join walking groups until they’ve been verified.

They can then filter their search preferences by sex, age, rating, LGBTQ+ only and student only with users having to verify their student status via email.

“Of course, there’s not always going to be groups around you so we’re figuring out other ways to make use of our community, for example getting quick help from nearby individuals,” said Mr Blundell.

“You could get help from bystanders who may not physically be present which is something that we want to get in place that a lot of other safety apps have tried to do.”

RouteBuddies also includes an interactive crime map showing where and when acts of violence or assault have taken place in the city.

Trust System

One of the concerns surrounding the app is whether those using it are trustworthy and the risks that come with meeting up with groups of strangers.

“A tool prioritising the safety of women is definitely a good idea but only if the app is safe in itself,” said Cathays student Gwenllian Quirke.

“Apps like Uber, for example, lets you rate drivers but I still know people who have had bad experiences with the app.

“Hopefully the safety checks will be strong enough to avoid this because overall it’s something that we could use in a city like Cardiff.”

RouteBuddies uses a trust-level system in an attempt to address these concerns.

The app automatically calculates the trust level of groups or individuals, which is then visible to all users, to help them make decisions on whether to join a walking group.

According to Mr Blundell, users have a score of 0 when they first sign up which rises or falls based on their activity.

Examples of good activity:

•          Finishing a journey

•          Getting a good rating

Examples of bad activity:

•          Leaving a group just after joining

•          Receiving a report

Users can also rate each other from 1-5 during or after trips which is a separate rating from the trust level but does closely impact it.

Jack Blunder developed the RouteBuddies app.
Credit: RouteBuddies

Street harassment in the UK

Last summer, a video of inappropriate comments being made to a 22-year-old woman on Newport Road in daylight received 2.3 million views on TikTok.

According to 2022 figures by the Office for National Statistics: “People felt less safe walking alone in all settings after dark than during the day; with women feeling less safe than men in all settings after dark.”

A separate Wales-based study by Plan International in 2019 found that 37% of girls aged 14-21 reported that they had been followed in public while Stonewall UK found that one in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident due to their gender identity or sexual orientation.

What’s next?

Mr Blundell hopes to develop the app further based on this trust system, for example, giving people the ability to ask for help from those with high trust ratings.

“Other safety apps are all doing amazing things, but the one thing that is very prominent is the person is still alone when they’re walking on the street,” he said.

“That’s the big difference with RouteBuddies, we’re safely bringing that physical in-person guardianship and we’re just trying to perfect that method, make it as safe as possible to get that in-person community available wherever you go.”

Mr Blundell says that he aims to make the app a prominent safety tool in every UK city.

“A big part of that, though, is making sure that it’s really safe so we’ll start here first,” he said.

“It’s been gaining traction and we feel that we’re reaching our audience in the ways that we need to be, going out on the street and starting those conversations.

“We’re going to have more updates in the next month or two with exciting things that we’re doing that no other safety initiatives in Cardiff are doing.”