- Washington, DC-based software company TransitScreen and nonprofit MobilityData announced they are collaborating on an open data platform that will share global public transit and mobility information. The partners have acquired TransitFeeds, the mobility data commons that serves 6 million data requests a year, to build the new OpenMobilityData platform.
- OpenMobilityData will fully integrate with transit data editors to allow for automatic data updates. It already boasts data from agencies across every continent.
- “The mobility industry badly needs an open data commons with integrated tools for creating and editing mobility information, just like you can edit Wikipedia,” Matt Caywood, CEO of TransitScreen, said in a statement. He compared OpenMobilityData to OpenStreetMap, the free, editable map of the world.
The comparison to OpenStreetMap could be apt. The open-source geographic data platform became a valuable resource for free map data, and was picked up by companies like Facebook, Craigslist and FourSquare for their own location features. Transit agencies are looking to broadcast up-to-the-minute information, and tech companies are increasingly trying to combine that in one place.
Google Maps, for example, has integrated transit schedules into its commuting feature, showing real-time train information to help users work public transit into their commute. Microsoft has partnered with urban mobility data firm Moovit to bring its user-collected transit data to Azure Maps and other Microsoft applications. As transit agencies are trying to fold in new mobility options and build their own comprehensive apps, the opportunity to share data and study similar agencies should help.
It’s a space that TransitScreen is familiar with. The company collects local, real-time mobility information, such as transit schedules and nearby bike- and scooter-share systems, and displays it on screens in commercial buildings. “Being able to provide the information at a glance in an efficient and easy-to-use manner, that’s when you have the biggest impact,” Caywood told Smart Cities Dive in 2018.
How TransitScreen helps city dwellers preserve a valuable asset: time
CEO and Co-founder Matt Caywood said by curating transit information, people can make better and more efficient mobility decisions.
Ten years ago, in the neuroscience lab at the University of California, San Francisco, a graduate student was developing experiments involving an unlikely interest: transportation.
Matt Caywood, a Chicago native, was always fascinated by public transit. He had previously built himself a trip planner for London Underground (a good four years prior to London launching its own planner), and at UCSF, he built his own tools to determine the most efficient transit options home after late nights of studying. This passion for tech-driven mobility solutions led Caywood to Washington, DC, where his infatuation with transportation transformed into a business.
In 2013, Caywood and co-founder Ryan Croft launched TransitScreen, a company that curates local, real-time mobility information — including bus and rail times, wait times for ride-sharing apps and the proximity of bike- and scooter-share systems — and displays it on screens in commercial buildings. The screens are located across more than 40 cities in the U.S. and Canada, with some even sprinkled throughout the U.K., Ireland and France.
The growth of TransitScreen followed a true startup trajectory, having started in Caywood’s garage before moving to the former 1776 incubator, and eventually into its own office. Caywood describes the company as “scrappy” and touts its most strategic business decision — to sell to real estate clients.
“The cities are advocates for us because we’re helping them by providing public information that anyone, no matter who they are — young or old, rich or poor — can get,” Caywood said. “But what we do instead is work with the real estate industry and with employers to put that information into as many public and public-ish locations as possible.”
TransitScreen displays are most commonly found in commercial offices, apartment buildings, hotels, restaurants and university buildings.
“It’s a very different model from, say, a LinkNYC model where they have to spend hundreds of millions in capital costs to roll out their network then find a way to recoup that,” Caywood explained. “We’re able to make a very large impact on smart cities while still being a very small and lightly-funded company.”
Real-time data on the big screen
By offering transportation information on a public display, the TransitScreen team is aiming to preserve a valued asset of the everyday public transit user: time.
A recent report from McKinsey Global Institute found that, by 2025, the cities that deploy smart mobility applications could reduce average commuting times by 15-20%. “When a resident looks at real-time traffic data and decides to set out at a less busy time, she avoids adding another car to the road that would worsen congestion for everyone,” the report says. “Millions of individual decisions and actions add up, making the city as a whole more productive and responsive.”
Caywood said by giving city residents the option to view this real-time data right before walking out of the door, it alleviates the responsibility of looking up the information on your mobile device. And, while TransitScreen has optimized its service to be responsive to a mobile screen, Caywood said only one in every 10 public transit riders ever checks their phone for such information.