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Metro’s not expanding anytime soon. The streetcar’s on hold. Buses can be slow and unreliable. Uber and cabs are too expensive for most Washingtonians to use on a regular basis.
Enter Bridj. The Boston-based transportation start-up plans to make its D.C. debut this spring—”definitely before the snow melts here in Boston,” according to the company’s marketing manager, Ryan Kelly, which may not be saying much—-offering a private van service that will run regular routes to bring people to and from work.
“On one end of the spectrum, you have Uber, taxis, driving yourself, which is incredibly personalized,” says Kelly. “But it’s also pretty costly. And on the other end you have the Metro, subways, and the like, and those systems are incredibly affordable, but they’re not very personal at all. We see Bridj being in the middle of that.”
Kelly says the service will cost more than Metro but less than Uber. It will collect requests from users in order to determine which routes are in highest demand, and change routes periodically to meet that demand.
“It’s much more data driven than your typical city bus, but it’s still affordable, because we’re not picking you up at your house or dropping you off directly at your office,” says Kelly. “We’re going to aggregate demand and tell everyone to meet at a central location.”
Bridj has been aided in its D.C. expansion by Gabe Klein, who served as director of the District Department of Transportation under Mayor Adrian Fenty. Klein became Bridj’s chief operating officer in September. He says he’s no longer an employee of the company but still advises it. Kelly says Klein’s knowledge of D.C. and local connections have been “incredibly valuable.”
Given the proximity of the D.C. launch, though, the company is not forthcoming with many details on how the service will work. Kelly won’t say how many vans operate in Boston—-the only city where Bridj is currently active—-or how many will come to D.C. He’s not sure yet how many routes will operate in the District, although he says Bridj will probably launch in “heavy mixed residential-business neighborhoods” to take advantage of density. (In Boston, which Kelly describes as more segregated between residential and business areas, the company offers rides from and to three residential neighborhoods.) The price has yet to be set, although it could fluctuate based on the time of day, with peak service costing more. In Boston, the maximum peak fare is $5.
Bridj is gathering data to craft its routes by asking Washingtonians to submit the addresses of their home and work. So far, here are the results for home (larger dots mean more people) …
… and for work:
That doesn’t suggest many obvious routes, except perhaps from less Metro-accessible areas around Petworth and H Street NE/Capitol Hill to downtown. Kelly says the routes will be determined by a “Ph.D.-led data science team.” The vans will stop less frequently than buses; in Boston, on a five-mile route, they’ll stop three or four times, according to Kelly. That suggests something like a smaller-scale, higher-price Circulator.
The service will begin only during commuting hours, on weekdays from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. and from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Although Kelly describes the company as “vehicle agnostic,” the vans are likely to be 13-passenger vans, possibly Mercedes-Benz Sprinters or Ford Transit.
Kelly declines to say how many passengers Bridj transports in Boston, describing it only as “hundreds of people a day.” In D.C., where Bridj was attracted by the high percentage of car-free households and the proximity to Boston, Kelly sees greater possibilities.
“D.C. has a lot more density than Boston,” he says, “and offers a lot more opportunity in that aspect.”
Images from Bridj