Bridj startup plans to roll out big data, luxury buses, beat the T for commuters
A new company is joining services such as Zipcar and Uber in competing with traditional transportation such as taxi and the T: Bridj. Based on Main Street in Kendall Square, Bridj’s founders claim it is the world’s first smart transit system using big data to find where people live and work, then using luxury buses to help them commute.
The company offers three routes weekdays between 7 and 9 a.m., taking people from Coolidge Corner to Kendall Square, Downtown and the Seaport – three places data show the most demand from workers. The routes to each are designed and calculated from traffic data to make sure travel takes the least time possible. It takes only 25 minutes, for example, from Coolidge Corner to Kendall Square by Bridj bus, while it usually takes 50 minutes or more by the T via the green line and red line.
“We are using 19 data streams that consist of millions and millions of data points from places like social networks, municipal databases and private data companies that we pay for to figure out how a city moves,” said Matthew George, founder of Bridj. “When new users sign up on our website, we also collect their home address and work address directly to figure out new routes and schedules.”
George, 24, majored in biology at Middlebury College in Vermont, an atypical background for a tech entrepreneur, but one key to his company: The idea of Bridj grew from his idea to allow student travel from remote campuses to surrounding major cities at school breaks. As a member of student government, he founded BreakShuttle in 2012 and brought it to 16 colleges and universities around the nation.
“Since we are originally from Vermont, Boston is naturally the next big city to get in,” George said. Boston also has the nation’s 13th-worst traffic, according to the TomTom Traffic Index, and has a market open to new transportation ideas, such as Uber and Lyft.
Bridj launched its first test shuttle June 2 and has about 10,000 people signed up. Still in testing phase, the service is free until mid-July, when prices from $5 to $8 per ride will be rolled out along with payment structures such as weekly passes.
Adjusting as they go
The company makes adjustments on the schedules weekly, changing vehicles according to demand. “A huge bus as big as Greyhound” was replaced by a 14-passenger Mercedes-Benz van on one route, said Brian Holak, a regular passenger since the beginning of June.
“I understand that they are trying to cut the cost, since we are still free trial users,” said Holak, who lives in Coolidge Corner and works at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The future price might have him reconsidering the service, because “$5 is like double the T.”
Some people welcome the pricing.
“Today is actually the first time they start to offer the route at 8:30,” said Andrea Malizia, a passenger who lives in Washington Square and works in Kendall Square. Malizia said he has to drop his kids at school at 8 a.m., and previously the Bridj buses were available only at 8 or 9. He said he enjoys the improvement and will keep riding even after it charges a fee, because his company pays for his transportation.
With $1.1 million funded and another $3 million to $4 million in investments to be announced, Bridj plans to expand to a couple more cities in the next move, George said. Major cities in China, India and Japan are being considered too.
“I think Bridj is offering the public a more flexible option other than traditional transportation, getting people out of their cars,” George said. “And I think the idea also works in cities with good traffic conditions.”