There’s a statistic that plagues public transit agencies—it’s the fact that not even a third of people live within a quarter mile’s walk of a bus stop.
And because it’s much easier to hop in a car, they choose to do that versus take advantage of a public service we pay taxes for as citizens.
An RTP startup called TransLoc
has spent the last 11 years developing technology and apps to eliminate barriers to people riding the bus. It’s lined up more than 135 transit agencies around the nation as customers, and now serves millions of U.S. citizens through its real time bus-tracking app called Rider. But even with its progress so far, there’s still little TransLoc can do about the location of stops.
Starting in February, bus riders in Raleigh-Durham and Memphis will be able to create and optimize a route in TransLoc that includes the bus, walking and Uber. It’s the first time Uber has fully integrated with a third party app, meaning riders can book and pay for an Uber ride at the same time as they plan a route on the bus or on foot, and without leaving Rider.
It's a partnership that could elevate bootstrapped TransLoc into the upper echelons of transportation tech innovation
just three years after a management shakeup and company restructuring. But more importantly, it helps to fulfill a vision cast by CEO Doug Kaufman
to build technology that takes mass transit "from last resort for some to first choice for all."
The problem Uber and TransLoc are solving is called “first-mile, last-mile”. By combining public and private transit options, they hope to remove a couple of barriers in transportation—that of cost for those who can’t afford to commute via private transportation and distance for those who don’t live close to a bus stop. Using Uber for only the first or last mile to or from a bus stop, for example, could make it more feasible for someone to use mass transit.
TransLoc’s technology allows people to optimize their route based on time and cost. And it’s a proposition exciting many in both transportation and tech. Last fall, venture capitalist Fred Wilson called for technology that allows for "multi-modal transportation," presumably, the type of software that TransLoc is working to create. Kaufman says Uber is the first of many similar partnerships to come—with other ride-hailing companies, as well as ride- and bike- sharing to ensure Rider is providing the optimal route for users factoring all available options (besides their own vehicle).
According to Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, partnerships like this one with Uber “enhance the attractiveness of public transportation, with the traveling public being the prime beneficiary.”
TransLoc began discussions with several of these private “transportation network companies” earlier this year, but talks with Uber became more serious in October, when the Silicon Valley powerhouse made it clear it wanted to partner.
According to Kaufman, a plus was that the company “moves lightning fast" when it's ready to do something.
It also had the largest footprint of any potential partner—350 cities globally—and operated in many of the communities where TransLoc has transit agency customers.
The companies share similar missions too. Despite some of the drama Uber has caused within the taxi industry and government, its goal is to make transportation as convenient and easy as possible. And according to some experts, the only way Uber will achieve its $50 billion valuation (at the time) is to reach new customers, like those who use public transit. Uber was not available for comment prior to publishing.
There was also some precedent for integrating ride-hailing with public transit. Uber made it easy for agencies to link to its app from their websites and apps, inking the first partnership with a public transit agency in April 2015 with Dallas Area Regional Transit.
But no company had taken on the big task of making Uber booking native within a transit agency’s bus tracking app. It was a relationship that started with TransLoc's director of strategy and partnerships Josh Cohen, but quickly involved developers from both companies to handle the complexities of integrating the Uber API into Rider in a user-friendly and seamless way.
Some of that work is still ongoing as the partners prepare for the mid-February launch with the two more progressive TransLoc customers (GoTriangle and MATA in Memphis). The pair are calling the initial rollout a pilot and though TransLoc has no exclusive rights to the API and technology, initial conversations lead Kaufman to believe the relationship will expand over time.
And that could also lead to the big scale-up the company has been preparing for since a leadership changes in 2012 and the technology building, customer acquiring and hiring sprees that have followed.
Says TransLoc marketing director Jennifer Gardner, “Uber and TransLoc are aligning around a new way of thinking about mobility—that there should be more than one way to get from point A to point B.”