Bridj Comes to Washington

Bridj provides an interactive map of the Washington metro and invites visitors to plot the locations of their commutes. The data will help the company optimize its routes.

Bridj provides an interactive map of the Washington metro and invites visitors to plot the locations of their commutes. The data will help the company optimize its routes.

Last September, I posted about a Boston-area company, Bridj, that was reinventing the mass transit business by providing luxury bus rides to suburban commuters. For $6, Bostoners could get a comfortable, Wi-Fi-equipped ride from suburban locations to downtown Boston and Cambridge. Just as Uber was disrupting the taxicab industry, Bridj, I opined, would disrupt the bus transit industry.

Now Bridj is coming to the Washington region, the company has announced:

As the world’s first smart mass transit system, we deliver a fundamentally more efficient way of moving throughout the city. Powered by data and mobile tech, we’re able to optimize pick-ups, drop-offs, and routing based on need. Plus, since all rides are shared and each Bridj seats up to 14 passengers, fares cost only slightly more than the metro. However, on Bridj you’re always guaranteed a seat and an express trip between neighborhoods.

Our PhD-led data science team is developing our initial service area as we speak. Their algorithm takes into account dozens of different data streams on how D.C. moves, as well as feedback from potential users like yourself.

If Uber’s experience is any indication, Bridj will meet plenty of resistance from local transit monopolies who will complain about the company “skimming the cream,” threatening to drive them out of business, depriving poor people of transportation monopolies and all the rest. Hopefully, Virginia will respond to the Bridj challenge the same way it did to the Uber challenge with light-handed regulation tailored to safeguarding the public health and safety rather than protecting vested economic interests.

But Bridj may be savvier than Uber from a P.R. standpoint. I haven’t heard of any anti-Bridj backlash in the Boston area, so the company may be taking a less confrontational approach. Regardless, it would be nice to see the McAuliffe administration take a proactive stance, confer with Bridj executives and make the company’s transition to the Virginia marketplace as smooth and painless as possible. We should embrace the attitude that making Virginia a “Bridj friendly” state will confer a competitive economic advantage.

— JAB

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21 responses to “Bridj Comes to Washington

  1. ” MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the agency does not see Bridj as a rival — or threat. He said Bridj fares are more in line with taxi prices and the vast majority of MBTA riders cannot afford cabs on a regular basis.

    One-way bus fares in the city cost $1.60 and subway trips cost $2.10 with a CharlieCard.”

    that’s verses $6-$10 ….

    I’m all for the competition just as I am for education as long as they’re all on the same level playing field.

    but I’m still a bit skeptical of static fixed transit routes – that folks can depend on – to dynamic service that essentially requires the rider to have a Smartphone and even then – there is no guarantee of on-demand times – both at the origin and the destination.

    once a bus has picked up riders and has fleshed out it’s route – it has already made promises to the existing riders as to arrival time. If it continues to pick up additional passenger – what arrival time are they promised and does it come at the expense of the others already on the bus?

    on-demand transit service is the holy grail of transit – and is possible only with the advent of high-power computers who can (like your GPS) sort through many different variables in a few minutes to come up with an estimated time of arrival that takes into account all the existing promised stops.

    and I see folks willing to pay a premium for transit service to not be tolerant at all of being promised an arrival time and then have it revised. They’re going to demand virtually bulletproof reliability.

    this stuff may turn out to be more like the best-ever invented buggy whip being released just at the same time automobiles are invented! too little, too late.. born obsolete.

    sometimes new technology chases problems that have already been solved by other technology – like self-driving cars.

    or this: http://www.fastcodesign.com/3041696/this-drone-ambulance-is-totally-wild-and-totally-inevitable

  2. Yeah, I’ll walk back my prediction that Bridj will be controversial — at least in the short run. As long as Bridj is creating new routes and not competing with established routes, and bringing new transit riders into the market, rather than competing for existing transit riders, the transit companies have little reason to object.

    The problem will come when Bridj or other newcomers begin aggressively expanding beyond the pioneering routes. Sooner or later, someone will be competing with the transit monopolies. But that day is in the future, not right now. Bottom line: the comparison with Uber probably isn’t a terribly useful one… at least not for now.

  3. So let me get this straight. A bus that charges the same as the Woodbridge to Tysons, Loudoun to Arlington, etc express buses that are all over the DC area for suburban areas… is going to stop 20 or 30 times on the way from Loudoun to DC… making what is normally a 1 hour trip into a 2 hr cluster… and that is going to revolutionize transit?

    *eye roll*

    • “So let me get this straight…”

      I don’t think you got it straight.

      Whatever Bridj is doing in Boston, it’s working. It’s tapping an unserved market. And the service is successful enough, they’re rolling it out to a new metropolitan market.

    • It may or may not revolutionize transit, but never underestimate the price the upper classes are willing to pay to be isolated from the hoi polloi.

      • LOTFL, you exhibit reverse snootyism — accusing the “upper classes” of undesirable social traits (mainly snootyism). I would conjecture that the “upper classes” will rarely if ever take the bus — they have options that no one else can afford. But perhaps the middle and professional classes will. Their priorities are price, comfort and convenience — not segregating themselves from the lower orders.

        Oh, and by the way, how many poor people are likely to need a ride from suburban Newton, Mass., to downtown Boston?

        • re: ” Oh, and by the way, how many poor people are likely to need a ride from suburban Newton, Mass., to downtown Boston?

          maybe the ones who work at jobs in Boston but can’t afford to live in Boston?

          re: snootyism

          well I don’t think that but the more well off are usually willing to pay more for “more” and that would include “express” service so they don’t have to stop at every stop on a fixed route.

          the one thing that is of primary importance to many higher end travelers – is the arrival time. Everything else in their schedule is predicated on that time.

          I just don’t think people are going to pay a premium price for a dynamic express bus – unless it reliably delivers them superior value which I suspect
          is going to be an expectation of faster service and dead on arrival time.

          but that expectation is going to run up against the profit motive of the company trying to add as many passengers as they can to the bus – with
          the chaos of different pickup points and different destinations.

          I equate this to the complaints people are making on the I-95 HOT lanes which are divided into 3 segments – and you don’t know the cost of the next 2 segments until you get there and it can be significantly more than the segment you got on and that’s because the toll company is using tolls to keep each segment flowing smoothly. So someone can get on at $4 and the 2nd segment $8 and the third $10..

          so it’s not popular and I think a similar thing might happen to a dynamic transit service where the rider is promised on arrival time but it degrades as
          more passengers are picked up. People are not going to find that worth paying extra for.

      • I was worried about the separation of the wealthy from the hoi polloi. So, I asked one of the pilots of my private plane to ask his limo driver about Bridj. It turns out that Bridj isn’t that much more expensive than driving to the Metro, paying for parking and then taking the subway into the city. Beyond that, since you have WiFi throughout the trip you can get some work done. Mere stock brokers and personal wealth advisers find it attractive. Of course, us hedge fund managers prefer personal helicopters.

        • I have no problem what-so-ever with Bridj using technology to exploit an unmet need even if it comes at the expense of municipal transit and Metro.

          I have no problem with Uber and Lyft either – or any other disruptive technology like MOOC or HOT lanes or self-driving cars or zip cars, etc.

          I love them all and don’t mind at all if they obsolete things in the process.

          but call me a skeptic on private sector proposals that are as much or more predicated on evading regulation or co-opting govt-provided services and infrastructure as true disruptive innovation.

          there is a reason why there is a concept called common carrier and it seems to evade the anti-regulation cheerleading types who either ignore it or dismiss it as an impediment rather than a protection of consumers?

          Bridj seems to be a fuzzy concept at this point with some folks talking about it replacing city transit, and now Metro and then suggesting the use of congestion tolls to enhance the business model of Bridj – forgetting that such
          a thing would also boost METRO and municipal transit as commuter rail.

          However – as long as these startups serve the public on the same consumer-protective basis as other transit – I applaud the competition.

          let me point out – that public accommodation drives huge costs for transit and metro – all common carrier mobility from lifts on the equipment to curbside facilities, etc.

          Does Bridj plan to provide a similar competitive service or are we, in fact, letting “competition” choose to not serve that group and instead leave that
          to the govt- to continue to provide and pay for?

          I continue to think that some folks approach these things in simplistic sound bite ways and that people who have never run a transit operation and think technological innovation will revolutionize it are just ignorant of some basic realities of how transit actually operates – and their response when they discover these things is to dismiss them as unnecessary govt rules.

          the truth is somewhere in between.

          I do not support outlawing ANY of these start-ups – let them develop, evolve, and adapt and force changes perhaps even in regulations. perhaps we should abandon or re-work our commitment to ADA but let’s do so with eyes wide open – not back-door end runs by selected outfits looking for profits.

          finally – I totally support dynamic tolling, the free-market way of setting prices for airline fares and stadium seats and gasoline and I think we should also have peak-hour pricing for electricity but I also remind folks how cable internet and TV and payday loans and fly-by-night colleges have evolved.

      • But the current Loudoun express buses or Manassas express buses, etc… are for well off people. They are express buses, they cost 4 times more than regular buses that make frequent stops, they are nice one seaters with cushie seats and good air conditioning.

        More importantly, they don’t have to stop every 6 minutes, which means they can go from the outer suburbs to the inner CBDs in under 1 hour… where as this new revolutionary idea will mean many stops, longer rides, and therefore fill zero demand for the service.

        This likely worked elsewhere because of a lack of express buses, or perhaps the extreme climates of Boston assisted in that people wanted a 0 minute outside wait, but would be willing to sit for longer on the bus. Eitherway the express bus services have become something of a refined art in NOVA now, very good on-time rates because of the lack of stops, and usage of bus only lanes/toll road.

        What is really revolutionary in transit? Better and more transit *shocking!!!*

        • the good news is that there is lots of new thinking on mobility – and that includes the idea of congestion tolling which is essentially a govt-controlled activity – not private sector initiated.

          and it should also be noted that even though smart phones ride on private-sector cell towers – their route navigation and geographic dispatch are totally predicated on govt-provided GPS.

          Bridj plans on using public roads paid for by taxpayers… not just fuel tax but sales tax and other taxes – that Bridj won’t be paying for.

          and Bridj’s opportunity is that they do not have to provide widespread low cost transit service to under-served populations including handicapped which the govt cannot so easily opt out of.

          so how much of Bridj is truly innovative disruptive technology and how much is it co-opting existing govt services and infrastructure and escaping having to meet the requirements that govt has to ?

          I still wonder who their target customer is because it’s not likely to be existing transit users.. so if someone tried to identify what the target customer is and the unmet need what would it be?

          it looks to be they’re after folks who already use other non-transit passenger services…

  4. I’d have a whole lot more confidence in a company that has run a transit service in upgrading it to a dynamic service than I have with some computer geeks thinking they can use computer technology to revolutionize transit.

    and I think we’re going to see that with a lot of these start-ups and that’s why conventional transit does not fear them as competition.

    Cabs – yes – but more because they are being held to one set of regulatory standards while the startups are claiming because they are using technology that they should not be subject to those regulations.

    Virginia , aka the Clown Show did not buy this. They basically extended the regulations that were on conventional passenger carrying services to include the newer innovations – i.e. their drivers have to have background checks and valid licenses, the cars have to meet safety standards, commercial liability insurance has to be obtained, etc.

    Keep in mind also – the existence of what are known as dollar buses…and the problems inherent with them.. poorly maintained vehicles, drivers not qualified and driving too many hours.. etc.

    some new entrants – seem to think that one can “price” in these things – that some folks are willing to save money even if it means a unsafe vehicle or questionable driver.

    the bigger question is – how would anyone know? This is sorta like saying a
    new food company wants to sell products but claims it does not have to put a nutrition label on it or a credit card company that does not have to fully disclose it’s terms, etc.

    People “like” the idea of getting govt out of their affairs – until their mother gets killed or their son maimed by irresponsible actions that a lawsuit will never fully resolve or compensate them…

    this is where regulation comes from. Everyone hates it especially when the right wing fanning the anti-regulation flames these days – but when it hits home – people get irate.

  5. Hey, Dr. No, when did you become so opposed to progress? If you’d been around in 1500, we’d still riding donkeys and eating dirt!

    Of course, every technological/economic innovations has externalities and spillover effects. We can have one of two responses: Halt all progress or make reasonable accommodations to allow the innovation to take effect. With his vivid imagination of all the things that could go wrong, Dr. No would call a halt to everything!

    • I’m all in favor of progress! I have a record of advocating CHANGE in education, health care AND transportation!

      AND I LIKE competition!

      but I also recognize what “externalities” and “spill over” are and basically what they are is pushing adverse impacts on others.

      that’s NOT true innovation!

      that’s more like the guy that wants to set up a payday loan business or a fly-by-night university that uses govt loans or sub-prime home loans.

      all of them are true free-market endeavors – who will gladly screw their customers and laugh all the way to the bank..

      that’s the problem with you free market folks – you think any new success is a success – an innovation – even if it comes at a cost to others – you assume the others always deserve the adverse impact – that’ s it’s their fault for not being smart enough to know they’re being rooked.

      an unregulated free market is what you get in a 3rd world country but you guys seem to think that’s the optimized nirvana… never say a reg you didn’t like!

      nevermind – that the most prosperous countries in the world are, in fact, the most regulated – and the most horrible economic countries in the world are not prosperous superior competitors – they are simply no place where investors want to me – to innovate..

      turning American transit into a 3rd world model is not innovation..

      this is not that hard. If they provide a superior service that actually offers value to prospective customers – they will survive and prosper but that ain’t going to happen with their current business model.. because it’s basically a 3rd world type service where arrival time is not a priority.

      • Larry Gross — card-carrying Luddite!

        • AU Contraire – Mr. Gross believes in science and see’s not global conspiracy.

          and he supports govt where it is needed , and regulation where it is needed , in things like health care and education and transportation, public safety, and all manner of things from FEMA to border security to the FAA, NTSB, FDIC, FCC, EPA, and PBCG!

          The govt is who built the GPS and NOAA satellite network – as well as virtually every map you use in GOOGLE or auto and phone GPS maps.

          If the govt charged even a minuscule licensing fee for these technologies – we’d probably not even need taxes! We’d be running a SURPLUS!

          😉

    • “Hey, Dr. No, when did you become so opposed to progress? If you’d been around in 1500, we’d still riding donkeys and eating dirt!”

      Oh hell, Bacon – did you buy a sense of humor on Craigslist?

      I was reading this in my hotel room and laughing out loud.

  6. I don’t know the situation in Richmond. But Bridj’s service sounds similar to Loudoun Commuter. Only it is more expensive and not as predictable.

    I have a hunch that more info is needed, at least for the NoVa suburbs. Then again, there are always those who don’t want to mix with use masses, aren’t there?

    • re” mixing with the masses

      I think that’s a bunch of phony baloney myself – for anyone who’s ever got on Amtrak or an Airplane…or a public highway for that matter. Post office, McDonalds, bank, ER – you name it – get in line…

      I do exclude the super-rich – but the super-rich don’t use transit – they have their own Rolls and Gulstream when they need to get somewhere.

  7. let me back up – one

    if they provide bullet-proof reliable arrival time service – they will appeal to those willing to pay for it especially if there are no other options but these folks are not existing transit customers and this service is not going to “disrupt” the kind of transit we see in most places.

    and the idea that they’d be a transit version of dollar buses except marketed to higher end folks – doesn’t make any sense…

    so who is their market and how does that market currently satisfy their mobility need that Bridji seeks to provide?

    and one final question – what’s the difference between Bridj and bus rapid transit or to put it another way – what keeps BRT from using technology the same way that Bridj would?

  8. Any bus service that can provide reliable service along the metro blue line will be successful. Crystal City/Pentagon City to Foggy Bottom/Farragut Square would be a good place to start. If a congestion management toll was added to the Roosevelt bridge over the Potomac between Virginia and DC, there would be a huge spike in peak bus transit ridership.

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