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November 6, 2014

Impact Opportunity

Public transit has been an essential part of what makes cities work. Efficiently moving large numbers of people impacts everything from access to opportunities to environmental impact.

The problem is that while we have elaborate computer aided design tools to design bus shelters, we’re stuck using whiteboards and excel to design the actual transit system. Transitmix is solving this by building tools that make it easy to propose, understand and implement transit system changes.

The Problem
It’s estimated that city populations will grow 30% in the next 15 years. Public transit is already failing to meet existing demand and can’t adapt quickly to changing populations.

It takes years for transit agencies to make changes to their routes and overall networks. It’s hard enough to do that small agencies don’t make changes for decades.

Why? In short, there are no tools to model proposed changes and understand impact ranging from budget and service levels to compliance and policy impacts.

The state of the art for transit planning is often a combination of Excel and whiteboards.

Transitmix makes simulation tools (which you can try here) to enable planners to dramatically cut time to model and understand proposed changes, enabling large and small agencies to make decisions in weeks.

In effect, this lets transit planners move from Excel and whiteboards to something that feels a lot more like Sim City. This has many implications. First, it’s easier to understand and share new proposals with stakeholders. Second, it’s easier to understand budget and quality of service impacts.

Annual operating budget for mass transit in the US is $60b (source: National Transit Database). And this number grew by 10% over the last decade, when adjusted for inflation.

As a point of reference, one of the largest incumbent software providers, Trapeze Group is $300m a year business.

Competitive Space

Much of the incumbent activity has focused on operational pain. For example, matching drivers with routes. Much less attention has been paid to the planning space.

Trapeze – while they have some planning tools, they tend to focus on operations such as driver scheduling, fare collection and passenger information. Trapeze is the result of a variety of acquisitions over more than a decade and is part of the Constellation Software Inc. (“Constellation”) (TSX: CSU).

Urban Engines – is a startup building realtime maps of transit systems using payment data and is focused on the 100 largest cities in the world. They then design incentivizes for citizens to change transit system use to smooth demand peaks. The primary question appears to be the efficacy of commuter incentives – and there is no word yet on performance of trials in cities like Sao Paulo, Washington DC and Singapore. They have received recent funding from Google Ventures and others.

Conveyal – consultancy for transit planning. They have developed their own transit planning tools, but these are not available independent of their advisory services.

Skybus – enables transit systems to dynamically route bus service based on demand. The focus is on less dense areas, where service can be provided in response to changing daily needs.

Private transport options are exploding, in large part due to the rapid success of Uber and Lyft.

Ride Sharing – Pioneered by services like and now Bandwagon, ride sharing lets people share rides and dramatically reduce the cost relative to taxis. Uber Pool or Lyft Line are services that enable Uber and Lyft to leverage their drivers into lower priced services. Uber Pool is targeting prices that can be 33% of taxi prices, so still not public transit, but an alternative nonetheless.

Pop Up Transit – Where Lyft and Uber are using cars or SUVs. Bridj, Chariot and Leap Transit are using buses. So these services should be more able to approach the price point of public transit systems, particularly since they are not required to achieve the same levels of service coverage.

Product – The core offering enables users to create different scenarios – quickly changing routing, frequency of stops, etc. The result is a simulation environment that is not unlike choosing routes on Google maps. You can see a demo here –

The team continues to identify promising use cases.

General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) – transit systems can make this data available so that developers can include transit options in tools like Google or Apple maps for trip planning. Transitmix will make it simple for transit agencies to produce GTFS data and therefore make it easy for 3rd party developers to include transit systems in trip planning options.

Title VI –  in the US, transit agencies that receive Federal funding most demonstrate the impact of proposed changes on minority riders.  Today it is complex and time consuming to generate these reports. Transitmix will be able to dramatically simplify compliance reporting for Title VI.

Global Potential
The team localized to Mandarin in a week. The City of Zhengzhou uses it to present to the Chinese Transportation Ministry.

If the sale is to transportation departments, though the freemium model means that citizens and other stakeholders and create and view transit plans too. The team currently has generated a lot of inbound interest, so most of the focus is around converting free to paid customers around specific use cases.

Sam Hashemi, CEO – Designed and led software for Space Station at NASA.
Dan Getelman, CTO  Co-founder & CTO Lore, raised $6 million, sold to Noodle.
Tiffany Chu, CDO  – Started user experience practice at Zipcar.
Danny Whalen, VP Engineering – Geospatial programming and architecture expert.

Urban.Us Perspective
How to improve mobility in cities? To get a feel for the complexity of this question, it’s worthwhile digging into Anthony Townsend’s recent paper on Reprogramming Mobility (or cheat and read a rough summary from Fastco).

If one assumes that public transit continues to play a role (with or without human drivers) planning will remain an issue for decades to come. It’s possible that private approaches like Uber or Bridj will make inroads – some people may opt to drive less or not at all. But ultimately public transit is subsidized. Could cities contract with Uber or Bridj – certainly, but if Transitmix works, it would help to compare options of agency operated versus private operators.

Interesting, many US cities were built around cars and yet 2014 market the highest public transit usage since the 50s, an increase of 37% from 1995. But the biggest opportunities might be outside the US. Even as car ownership surges in developing countries, cities are making investments in public transit to avoid some of the crippling demands of surging vehicle traffic.

Finally, there is the question of how much usage might be influenced by simply making public transit better. And it’s here that we see the main opportunity. If we can plan, deploy and operate public transit better, we can make it an attractive alternative to driving. And with this, we can can drive down footprint associated with transport in cities.



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