In a story last week on FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver made the bold claim that Uber can only reach its $50 billion valuation if it can identify new types of customers, like the ones who ride city subways and buses.
An alliance between public transit and Uber, he argued, could have the biggest impact in getting cars off the road, eliminating traffic and providing cost effective and fast ways to get from here to there.
Meanwhile, popular New York venture capitalist Fred Wilson has already called for a single platform to allow “multi-modal transportation,” writing in July that software that converges all the various transportation offerings in a single app on your phone is when “we will really have something.”
One company is already working on the public side of that “something”, and it happens to have 130 transit agency customers around the nation, a technology platform used by tens of millions of bus and subway riders and a home base in Research Triangle Park.
The vision of 10-year-old bootstrapped TransLoc
has always been to make public transit competitive with private by providing agencies and riders technology that makes it easier and more efficient to ride the bus. A new software, hinted at earlier this year by The Atlantic
, gets the company even closer to that goal. In testing with transit agencies this fall is TransLoc OnDemand, which lets them offer Uber-like on-demand rides in smaller vans, cutaway buses and other vehicles at a fraction of the Uber price.
“Because we have all this data about riders, we believe we can help transit agencies recognize where routes should be, when they should run and also provide on-demand service,” says CEO Doug Kaufman. “We can take mass transit from a last resort for some to the first choice of everyone.”
For more on his background and experience building startups, check out our sit-down Founders Series interview with Kaufman below:
Today, the challenge is more around how fast to grow. The company will employ as many as 45 employees by year’s end, a marked increase from three years ago. And though there is room to up-sell the new software to existing customers, there are hundreds of agencies in the U.S. and eventually around the world to target. A round of venture capital could catapult a wider scale sales and marketing effort.
Meanwhile, Uber continues to toe the line between private and public transportation, offering services like “Smart Routes”
which discounts rides for those who walk to a set location (like a bus stop) to hop an UberPool ride. Though $45 billion in public money goes to transit agencies every year, they still must innovate to serve the needs of residents as the world changes.
“We need to move fast,” Kaufman explains. “But we’re managing all of this existing technology that we’ve got millions of users dependent on. We have to be great with that while still building new products that completely transform an industry.”
As his products penetrate the market and become a viable option for riders alongside Uber, Lyft and others, Kaufman expects increases in adoption similar to those he witnessed as Blackboard became popular on college campuses.
“Once you put stuff like this in the hands of riders and agencies and they know what is possible, they just want more,” he says.
It will be interesting to see if that “more” aligns with the vision set forth by Silver and Wilson, and if TransLoc is the one to build it.