Boston Startup Bridj Brings “Pop-Up Mass Transit” To D.C.

The District Source

When it comes to commuting, D.C residents that don’t drive are faced with three choices: Take public transit, walk or bike, or cab.

But Boston startup Bridj is hoping to add a fourth: An on-demand bus line that adjusts its routes based on where riders are, and where they want to go.

It’s a middle ground between Metro buses and Uber: Users drop a pin with their location and enter a destination, but like public transportation, riders will go to a central pickup spot, no more than 10 minutes away, based on the location of the most recent requests.

In its testing period, the service will connect only Dupont, K Street and Capitol Hill, the company says, though it is looking to add more locations over time. Each Bridj vehicle holds 14 passengers, all of them guaranteed an actual seat (no standing here, the company says).  A major perk: They also include free WiFi.

Bridj's first service area in D.C. Credit: Bridj.

Bridj’s first service area in D.C. Credit: Bridj.

Minibuses will run between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. weekdays, The Washington Post reports.  Limited service was set to begin Monday.

The startup is, at its heart, an experiment in crowdsourcing and data gathering: The company uses rider request data — including home and work locations — traffic patterns, major events, and posts on Facebook and Twitter to calculate where the most demand exists, and adjusts its stops accordingly.

That means if people start requesting the same meeting location on the Hill, for instance, Bridj can move its pickup location closer to that spot. And the more people request the same routes — say,  between Eastern Market and K Street — the more Bridj will run vehicles along those routes, or increase their frequency.

Though it’s not clear what the prices will be for D.C., it doesn’t get above $5 per ride in Boston, The Washington Post reports — more expensive than WMATA, but cheaper than a taxi. It will also help connect spots that are hard to reach: Taking the Metro between Bridj’s testing neighborhoods typically involves at least one transfer, by subway or bus.

Why launch in D.C.?

The District has a lot in common with Boston, Bridj’s first and only other location. More than a third of each city’s residents down own cars; fewer than 40 percent of commuters can reach their jobs by public transit in less than 90 minutes, the company wrote on its blog. In the cities’ fickle climates, “we’ve seen a massive shift from public transit, walking, and biking to more reliable and comfortable means of transit like Bridj when it’s snowing or raining. DC and Boston residents alike can tell you spring weather is unpredictable,” it wrote.

Another D.C. connection: Gabe Klein, the former head of transportation in both D.C. and Chicago, came on board as a consultant last year. 

As of Monday, you can check out the service yourself through the company’s app or the video below.

Bridj: How it Works from Bridj on Vimeo.

Erica Hendry is the editor of District Source, a D.C. real estate and neighborhood news blog, co-founded and supported by Compass Real Estate. Read more from The District Source.