With 600,000 international users, Moovit wants to make public transit suck less

By Nathaniel Mott , written on March 11, 2013

From The News Desk

There are few things worse than hearing the clack-clack-clack of a departing subway train or inhaling a black cloud of exhaust from a freshly-departed bus. We've all got somewhere to go, and for many city dwellers the only way to get there that doesn't involve blistered feet and shredded shoes is to rely on public transportation and make sure that they are in the right place at the right time. Moovit wants to help them do just that.

Moovit is best described as Waze for public transportation. Waze uses crowdsourced information to provide real-time traffic updates for drivers, and Moovit does the same for mass transit. Users are able to see if a bus or train has been delayed, how quickly it will get them to their destination, and what other riders think of the route. Moovit, like Waze, is based in Israel but has quickly expanded globally, covering cities like Los Angeles and New York as well as Rome and Madrid or San Paolo and Milan.

Now, 600,000 users later, Moovit founder and CEO Nir Erez says that government administrations have approached the company and asked them to launch in their city. Erez cites Germany as one such example, and says that other European countries have asked Moovit to pilot a ticketing program that would allow transit-goers to purchase fares directly from the Moovit app.

Such a program would allow Moovit users to plan and purchase the fare for their trips within one application. "When we asked [European administrations] why they need us, they said that we are the only platform that knows exactly the destination and can calculate the price," says Erez.

While a certain Mountain View-based company might contest that idea, the introduction of direct commerce into Moovit would certainly make public transit more convenient for users of the application. I would much rather be able to purchase fare via the app I'm using to get directions than have to get directions, find a vending machine, purchase the fare, and then continue along my way.

NickelBus, a New Jersey-based startup that launched at the inaugural TechLaunch demo day and has absolutely no relation to Nickelback, is trying to do something similar for longer bus routes. The service will allow users to determine the best route -- or combination of routes, for longer trips -- and could also integrate direct commerce once it leaves beta.

Moovit feels like a mix of a number of services, including the previously-mentioned Waze and, if the direct commerce model works, Uber. Apps that perform a variety of functions are becoming increasingly popular, and using mass transit shouldn't require multiple steps, services, and devices if it can be helped.

Whether or not Moovit will be the service to solve this problem is hard to predict. Google has become an almost-insurmountable behemoth in the mapping industry, with Android and iOS users alike clamoring to use the service. If Google were to add real-time, crowdsourced information to its platform (which it already does, in a way) it could gobble Waze, Moovit, and other services up entirely.

Perhaps Moovit's greatest defense against Google comes from Waze CEO Noam Bardin, who told PandoDaily contributor Mick Weinstein that he saw Waze (and perhaps other services) as separate from Google Maps.

“We focus on the daily drive to work — avoiding traffic jams and hazards on a route you know — while Google helps you find places outside of your daily routine," said Bardin. "Nobody uses Google Maps to get to work, because it doesn’t bring any particular value there in the way Waze does.”

Moovit wants to do the same thing for mass transit users. It's not about saving on fuel or avoiding traffic, as Waze is -- it's about getting city-goers where they need to be on time and saving them from the crushing feeling of defeat as their main mode of transportation plods out of sight.

[Image courtesy -Tripp-]