Transit started off as a slick app that helped you get in a complex metro area with public transportation, but now CEO Jake Sion has higher ambitions than that: being the go-to spot for getting from point A to point B, regardless of method.
WIth bike-sharing, ridesharing, carsharing, and plenty of other methods of transportation that you can plant "sharing-" at the front, Sion says Transit now has "millions" of users after starting off from the hope of having a better public transit app in Montreal. Today, the company said it has raised $5 million in new venture financing in a round led by Accel Partners in order to fuel that growth.
"So the big thing for Transit is to help people live in cities without cars," Sion said. "Building an awesome experience for public transit was the obvious first step. But public transit isn’t the best option for every trip. Adding deep integrations for complementary modes, like bike sharing, helps users more easily compare and combine different transport services. Plus, since so many people already have our app on their phone, our integration makes it simple for them to take that first, magical bike-share trip without downloading a new app or using a clunky kiosk."
Transit — and other apps like it — emerged from the need of having the ability to just pop open an app and see the fastest way to get from point A to point B without a whole lot of tapping and typing. The natural start was with public transportation, where Transit would pull data from various data sources and crowdsourced information to just give you a simple screen with nearby busses and subways. You'd get the name, number, arrival time, and other information you might need right when you open the app.
Plenty of apps gunned for the opportunity like Moovit and Transit, the former of which has raised tens of millions of dollars in venture financing (and makes it kind of difficult to get rid of that notification badge on your home screen). Instead of opening up Google Maps, typing in a destination and then demanding a route before you can get to the nearby times for your preferred route, Transit looked to streamline that process as much as possible. After that, Sion wanted to broaden the efforts to just be the home base for how to get from A to B regardless of transport medium.
The question for Transit — from both investors and from a logical standpoint — is how big it gets outside of urban areas where the need for public transportation is obvious. People, to be sure, are using alternative methods of transportation like scooter rental in the form of Scoot or bike-sharing within cities, but if Transit wants to get beyond just major metropolitan areas, it'll have to offer some kind of value proposition beyond that.
"I think the most fundamental question or debate is what emerges as people in cities move away from car ownership," Sion said. "Will there be continued fracturing or consolidation?... In the past year or so, I’d argue that we’ve seen continued fracturing."
Sion said that the company is trying to internally build a system that allows the company to quickly integrate new forms of transportation, like bike-sharing, at a technical and product level. The tools are designed to set up sign-up methods, payment, and booking without needing to update the app, Sion said, looking to capitalize on its existing user base that might want to broaden to new forms of transportation. Though to be sure, that, too, represents a potential risk.
"We're investing a disproportionate amount of resources into transport verticals that represent orders of magnitude fewer trips than public transit today," Sion said. "We believe that nobody has been able to build a product that stitches together various modes in a compelling way, and given our existing footprint among commuters in North America, we think we're well positioned to pull it off."
Transit will, of course, face a lot of competition. Its other investors in the round include Real Ventures, Accomplice, and BDC, and Accel's Ryan Sweeney is joining the board of directs. But it will have to go up against the thoroughly-funded Moovit and other apps like Citymapper (which actually justpartnered with Gett to launch a shared taxi commuter route in London) as it tries to win the hearts — and habits — of users.