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Moovit Wants To Fix Your Nightmare Commute

How crowded is the bus? What's it going to be like on the 6 right after a Nets game? Moovit wants to capture the intangibles of public transit with a not-too-aggressive app.

It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday in midtown Manhattan. You’re a dozen blocks away from dinner, and while there’s a direct bus line heading there, it’s often crowded and late. On the other hand, how jammed is the subway? And what’s the weekend line schedule?

Apps and software can analyze route schedules and closure notices, and New York’s MTA certainly wants to help developers with that. But there are more dimensions to travel than can be plotted out and geo-located, and those unseen realms are where new mobile app Moovit intends to step in and start mapping things out.

Moovit just launched in New York, NY in late December, but has racked up nearly 300,000 downloads in cities across the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. Moovit provides the base "static" data needed to plan a trip, but every Moovit user also has a chance to contribute tips and reports from their own public transit trips: crowded buses, unexpected closures, handicapped seating availability.

In other words, if the MTA claims a bus is arriving at 49th St. & 5th Ave. at 3:12 p.m., but a Moovit rider on that bus is still at 57th & 5th at 3:09, Moovit should let you know that, hey, maybe walking to the subway is, just today, kind of worth it. If it sounds a bit like crowd-sourced car navigation app Waze, you’re not wrong. Waze founder and CEO Uri Levine is a Moovit investor and board member.

"When you add real-time statistical data, based on users’ actual trips … you add another layer of certainty to transit," Nir Erez, CEO of Moovit, said in an interview. And then there is the "fifth dimension of transit information," as Erez labels it, or the "soft information." "Are there any seats left? Is the Wi-Fi working? Is there an event that’s causing pedestrian congestion?"

In U.S. cities, Moovit will likely face a familiar chicken-and-egg issue as it tries to build up a user base in multiple cities, which then improves the frequency of unique reports, and that attracts users, and so on. Moovit helps its cause with a background app capacity. The app can notice when someone who launched it is suddenly moving much faster, and therefore probably hopped a bus. It then might show a notification, asking how the bus is moving and looks inside; that notification disappears after about 10 seconds.

It’s a different story outside the U.S., according to Erez, and a big opportunity for Moovit—in fact, the majority of its downloads are outside the U.S. In São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Italy, and other cities in Latin America and Europe, open access to static transit data is far from the norm. "Rome is completely unable to provide any data, existing or otherwise … In most cities, there are not good enough solutions for people. Even if data is available as a website or app, the level of uncertainty among travelers is so high. We want to eliminate that," he says.

In other words, Moovit wants to give you the wisdom of the crowds, both in their own words, and in the real-time coordinates of their pockets.

[Image: Flickr user Jim Nix]