Bridj’s Data-Driven Private Bus Fleet Heading to DC

Commuters in Washington, DC, could soon be testing one young company’s vision for a data-driven, private bus fleet with high-end flourishes.

Bridj, a Boston-based startup, says it is targeting the nation’s capital for its first expansion. Although there are plenty of details to work out, Bridj says that it “will be available in Washington D.C. later this spring.”

The company has been offering its private, demand-based bus fleet in the Boston area since January, after a six-month test phase. Bridj was founded in 2013 by CEO Matt George, who launched a similar service targeting spring breakers while he was in college.

The overall idea is to have a bus service that adds and removes routes more quickly than a public transit system by continually sifting data about where people live, work, and have fun. Bridj uses external sources, like the U.S. Census and social media, along with requests from users and would-be riders.

Bridj’s buses tend to be 14-passenger “sprinter” vans, with amenities including wireless Internet and power outlets for workers who need to be plugged in before they actually get to the office.​ Fares in the Boston area have been $3 each way in early versions of the service, although Bridj says its fares will generally be more expensive than public transit and cheaper than taking taxis or driving alone.

Bridj Sprinter

 

The company is backed by about $4 million in venture capital investment from Atlas Venture, NextView Ventures, and other private investors.

Response in the Boston area has been good in the first weeks of full service, George said—particularly in response to the historically large snowfall that has hit the city, a seemingly neverending winter that has taxed the public transit system and pushed daily ride requests to two or three times what Bridj can actually fill.

Bridj’s initial service tends to target commuters shuttling to and from work, which makes up the bulk of urban travel, George said. But the company sees itself as possibly expanding to other markets, including nightlife revelers and other recreational users, if it can expand enough to put large amounts of buses into circulation.

“Bridj is designed, really, to be sort of a 24/7, `I’m here, I need to go there,’ public mass transit utility,” George said.​ “We’re not inherently focused on the commuter market. That just happens to be where the most trips are.”

George declined to discuss the particulars of any regulatory approval that Bridj must get before running in the DC market, but he did say the startup contracts with locally licensed, permitted private transportation services to pick up travelers.

“We are, at our core, not an owner and operator of vehicles,” George said. “We are a technology platform. So, by being able to leverage those local resources, we are able to expand pretty quickly.”

But unlike Uber, the car-hailing service that has become biggest name in urban transportation innovation, Bridj has tended to work closely with local regulators to make sure its service is blessed by government officials.

“Just like we did here in Boston, we have a very proactive relationship with every local government that we interact with,” George said.

The startup plans to open in more cities around the U.S. in the near future, George said: “The big leap is in city one to city two. ​You’ll start to see announcements in the coming weeks and months with new cities.”​

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