Taking the bus to work can be less than fun. You might spend half an hour standing at a stop in the rain or heat, wondering when the bus is going to show up, and when it does, you’re typically stuffed in with a crowd of other commuters. The ride is slow, since the bus pulls over to stop every few blocks and then has to painfully edge its way back into traffic.
A new startup calling itself “the world’s first smart mass transportation system” hopes to change that everyday scenario. By carefully analyzing how a city moves, using as many as 14 million data points, Bridj figures out where most people live and work and send buses on more direct routes. Instead of waiting for the city bus, you’d use an app to locate a nearby stop. The new bus route would speed you door to door.
Bridj has just launched a couple of trial routes in Boston. One trip, which would typically take 45 minutes on the subway, takes less than half that time on the new bus, despite traffic. Over time, using continuously updated data, the company plans to add about 40 main routes in the city, along with others that are shorter or pop up for special occasions like concerts.
The buses are decked out with Wi-Fi and power outlets, and once you buy a ticket, you’re guaranteed a comfortable seat. These features are designed to help lure in people who might otherwise drive or take a taxi. But the company’s main focus is on data, not offering a luxury ride.
“This is a smart infrastructure play, not just nicer buses,” says Matt George, the 24-year-old founder of the company. “80% of what we do is complex back-end analytical work.”
The company also plans to work directly with public transportation authorities, rather than trying to siphon off their business. They hope to set up partnerships with cities around the world.
“We’re a technology company,” George says. “As long as the user experience is really great, we don’t care whose vehicles they are, we just care about getting people to their destinations as quickly and sustainably as we can, and as cost-efficiently as possible.”
A ride is more expensive than the usual city bus–right now, a ride on one of the Boston routes costs $6. But the company is hoping that the experience is so much better than people expect that they’ll be willing to pay, and maybe they will, since people consistently rank commuting as the worst part of their day.
Ultimately, the company’s hope is to get more cars off the road. “What we’re really excited about though is being able to introduce the service on longer routes, connecting suburban areas with downtown city cores, or connecting neighborhoods that don’t have great mass transit with certain city cores,” says George. “And that’s when you really start to see the mode shift, when people stop driving.”