App-Based “Microtransit” Provider Bridj Closes Shop

Photo: Jason Lawrence/Flickr
Photo: Jason Lawrence/Flickr

Bridj, the premium app-based “microtransit” service that tailored routes and prices based on customer demand, has folded after exhausting its funds.

“We made the strategic choice to pursue a deal with a major car company,” CEO Matt George wrote in a post on Medium. “Despite assurances, and all parties acting in the best of faith, that didn’t happen. With this in mind, we have made the difficult decision to begin winding down.”

The company, founded in 2014, had launched in Boston, Austin, and Washington, DC, before beginning a partnership with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. That program, which cost the authority $1.3 million, served just 1,480 people in a year before ending in March. Most of its users were younger and wealthier than the typical Kansas City area resident, and many potential riders indicated that the service wasn’t robust enough to be useful to them.

The company’s largest market was its hometown of Boston, where it operated up to 50 vehicles at a time, according to the Boston Globe. Bridj had proposed offering late-night bus service in partnership with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, but never reached an agreement with the T.

Former Massachusetts transportation secretary Jim Aloisi, who had been hopeful about the prospect of app-based van services as a complement to traditional transit, said Bridj’s demise is an opportunity to reflect on what people are looking for from transportation providers.

“It never fulfilled the promise that some people thought it might have fulfilled, because when you think about Bridj, at the end of the day it’s a fancy bus that’s stuck in traffic with everyone else,” Aloisi told Streetsblog. “This only underscores the need for Boston to invest in Bus Rapid Transit.” Just a few weeks ago, the Barr Foundation announced up to $100,000 in funding for Boston-area municipalities and transit agencies investing in upgrades to improve bus speeds.

Bridj isn’t the first app-based private transit service to shut down. Leap Transit, which raised $2.5 million from big-name Silicon Valley venture capitalists to offer $6 luxury bus rides across San Francisco, folded in 2015.

One of Bridj’s competitors, Chariot, remains very much in business, with plans to expand to eight cities this year, thanks to the sort of backing that Bridj never secured. The company was purchased by Ford last September for more than $65 million. Ford CEO Mark Fields has positioned Chariot at the heart of its move to “smart mobility” — i.e. transportation as a service, not a private vehicle.

Having access to a deep pool of capital seems necessary for companies like Bridj to survive long enough to develop a viable model and scale up. Even then it might not be enough. “This is expensive stuff,” Aloisi said of transit services. “It’s not clear that even companies like Uber are going to be able exist for any long period of time if they keep losing substantial amounts of money.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    “This is expensive stuff,” Aloisi said of transit services. “It’s not clear that even companies like Uber are going to be able exist for any long period of time if they keep losing substantial amounts of money.”

    As I’ve noted, none of this is going to be affordable to 95 percent of the people if someone is trying to earn a living, even a bad living, as a driver. It has to be a dynamic carpool system in which drivers pick up smaller amounts of money making trips the would have made anyway.

    And you have to overcome the chicken and egg problem. For riders to save real money they have to avoid getting a car, not just avoid using it. And for riders to get by without a car, or with one fewer car in the family, a system has to be up and running with large numbers of drivers to provide a match to all origins and destinations all the time — it has to be very large to work.

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/uber-uber-alles/

  • Asher Of LA

    Chariot employs people while remaining affordable.

    If you don’t have free/cheap parking at work, it’s pretty easy for these services to be price-competitive with driving. That’s a big if, admittedly, but it falls squarely on city governments, and whether they require office space to have lots of parking.

    San Francisco has fewer parking requirements and seemingly less free parking for employees.

  • Larry Littlefield

    That’s an argument that if the alternatives are less affordable, shared ride options will look better in comparison. But poorer on average later born generations need things that cost less, not more, and that will be even more true as they get older. Continuing the post-1973 trend…

    https://larrylittlefield.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/chart-5.jpg

  • BlueFairlane

    I guess it was a Bridj too far.

  • BlueFairlane

    The problem with the model you describe is that it depends on there being a greater number of people willing to give rides than I think is reasonable. I don’t know that many people will say, “Hey, I have to go to the doctor today, so I’ll just go online and find somebody to pick up a mile out of my way and drop off a mile out of my way for, like, $2.” Unless the driver is an altruist who just likes driving people around, any amount you could pay to convince the driver to go through that procedure is going to exceed the amount to make the system economically viable.

  • Larry Littlefield

    More like $3 where I live, perhaps $2.50 elsewhere.

    It would have to be a way of life, picking up two or three people for each trip, adding up to about $5,000 per year. Enough to cover the cost of the car. With perhaps another $2,500 per year saved by having the second spouse use the service rather than have a second car.

    Moreover, less privileged later born generations of workers are going to be retiring into poverty. So the younger seniors might want to make a few bucks driving the older seniors around.

    To me this isn’t about young, hip college graduates, but people with low and moderate incomes, as I explained in the post. Most people earn less than most people on sites like this realize, and many of them are in auto-dependent areas.

    https://larrylittlefield.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/chart1.jpg

  • Shloveskic Chadhon

    what is required is a non asset based solution… a tech platform that uses existing assets. Logistically it only makes sense to help transit with 50+ seat buses. then crowd source routes. What tech start up http://www.ourbus.com is doing in parts of NJ for services to NY City can be easily done in all large metropolitan area of the country… Every customer saves money and gets better direct service and comfortable ride.

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