Can civic mass transit operate as a ride-sharing service? The Routing Company aims to find out on Bainbridge Island near Seattle.
In a project announced Wednesday, The Routing Company is launching a pilot program to change a portion of Bainbridge Island’s bus system to an app-based, on-demand ride-sharing service that will allow people to call the bus right to their front door and get delivered directly to their destination.
The system, using an app called Ride Pingo, allows transit riders to call a bus or a coach to their front door and then get dropped off at a requested location in the same way as an Uber, Lyft, or cab service might. And, if the projections are to be believed, for a lower cost than a ride-sharing service — maybe.
“It’s going to be up to each transit agency to make that call,” said James Cox, CEO of The Routing Company. “Ideally, I’d like it to be cheap but we are leaving it up to them.”
Cox knows plenty about ridesharing. The Australian was one of the developers of Uber Pool, the transportation giant’s ride-sharing feature.
He also knows well how ride-sharing doesn’t work. Use the Toyota Prius as an example. The price that a potential rider is willing pay for a ride-share doesn’t work in a four-seater Prius, he said. But it does in a 14-seat van or larger. “The math doesn’t work on a smaller scale,” Cox explained.
In the Kitsap County pilot project, the existing buses will run on the same routes they do now with no changes. But interested riders can, through the app, call one of the island’s two 14-seat coaches for place-to-place service. The expectation is that they will be at the door in 4-to-9 minutes.
The broader idea is to develop a system that leaves regular mass transit to primary routes but moves the small routes buses to on-demand.
Think dial-a-ride but for everyone.
“We’re excited to make our (Bainbridge Island) service even more convenient for more people to access our on-demand bus service,” said John Clauson, Executive Director of Kitsap Transit.
Currently, the pilot project is limited to the island. But several local transit agencies already have begun to negotiate contracts with The Routing Company. King County Metro, for example, is planning a similar pilot project in Kent. The Kitsap County project is the first for the company in the U.S. Other projects include systems in Andorra and Australia.
The Routing Company believes it has cracked the code that will allow a hybrid system — mass transit for trunk lines, on-demand for the rest — to allow local transit to reclaim what it lost during the pandemic and then improve upon that.
In December, the company raised $6.5 million, much of it coming from the MIT deep investment fund The Engine. The startup’s core technology was developed at MIT. Co-founder and CTO Alex Wallar was a doctoral student at MIT where he focused on optimizing vehicle distributions. Former 2getthere engineer Menno van der Zee is the other co-founder.
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