Picture this: You just landed in a busy airport in a city you’ve never stepped foot in before. You’re tired, you’re overwhelmed and you don’t have a ride to where you need to go. Plus, you’re clueless about the local transit options and not in the mood to look them up.
If only there were a convenient digital display screen nearby that would show you all of your local transportation choices in one quick glance — and in real-time.
This is precisely the vision of TransitScreen, a Washington, D.C. startup co-founded by Harvard University graduate Matt Caywood and James Madison University graduate Ryan Croft. The innovative upstart uses the power of public information to empower travelers with the information they need to travel smarter and more sustainably.
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In addition to showing local weather conditions, the company’s multicolor displays — mounted in airports, hotel and apartment lobbies and other high foot traffic locations — share up-to-the-minute transportation information, including local public bus and train stops and schedules, area bike rental and Uber options.
“Our goal as a global information company is to enable travelers to use public information in a way that improves their experience,” Caywood told Free Enterprise. “In the process, we’re making cities healthier, sustainable and more accessible for everyone, and people more likely to use public transit.”
TransitScreen is headquartered out of 1776, a global startup network, venture fund and coworking space in the heart of our nation’s capital. Caywood said he and Croft chose to operate primarily out of 1776 “because we support its commitment to building the D.C. and global tech ecosystems, and its focus on helping the public and private sectors build smarter cities.”
Today, the startup’s special displays, which can be customized to include details about available ride sharing and bike sharing services, are in operation beyond Washington, D.C. alone. They can also be found in five countries in approximately 33 cities, including San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia and Boston.
In Florida, TransitScreen recently teamed up with the state’s Department of Transportation to soon add one of its proprietary algorithm-driven displays at the MetroPlan Orlando office. On top of drawing people’s attention to arrival information for public buses and trains, the screen, which will be rolled out as part of the Sunshine State’s “reThink Your Commute” initiative, will highlight the availability of nearby Zipcars and bike shares.
We recently chatted with Caywood to find out more about how TransitScreen helps assists travelers, improves cities and lowers individuals’ carbon footprints. Here’s what we found out:
What was the entrepreneurial “ah-ha moment” that inspired you and Ryan Croft to launch TransitScreen?
“I was trying to figure out how to get home — having a choice of bus and subway — and had to open up bus schedules in different web browsers, flipping back and forth between all the options. I knew there had to be a better way.
TransitScreen began as a project at Arlington County’s Mobility Lab and grew from there. We started in March 2013, but our first employee joined in March 2015.”
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What problems does TransitScreen solve and through which technologies?
“TransitScreen provides live transportation information specific to your location, primarily on screens in lobbies. So, as you’re leaving your apartment or office, you know exactly what your travel options look like, including a complete marketplace of public transit, private services and traffic.
So many people waste time in transportation. Having this information readily available in a convenient place not only saves people time and energy during their commute but makes them more likely to choose transit in the future.
Our technology brings information from the Internet of Things (tracking vehicles in real-time) via the cloud (managing millions of data calls daily and updating our network of screens), and to the web (displayed on our screen network).”
How many employees do you have to date and how many customers do you currently serve?
“We have 20 employees and more than 400 customers.”
Can you discuss the venture capital you’ve raised so far and what is it being used to help you achieve?
“We’ve raised $2 million in two funding rounds. This was the bedrock we needed for fast, well-planned growth. It brought together our great product team building our cloud software, and infused our sales and support teams with startup experience.”
How does TransitScreen make cities “healthier, sustainable and more accessible for everyone”?
“We encourage people to use the full spectrum of transportation choices, not just join single-occupant car gridlock. This lowers pollution and carbon emissions, decreases traffic and improves the quality of life and health, as well as the economic strength of cities. Transit users and bikers are more active and healthier on a personal level.
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Accessibility works on two levels: People who don’t have smartphones because of age or income can still get the information they need to travel safely and efficiently, and better transportation makes more areas of the city accessible for housing.”
What is the key benefit of rolling out TransitScreen specifically at airports?
“TransitScreen is about using public information and design to improve the experience, which is important to the long-term success of airports. We want to help airports with the passenger experience so they can focus on operations and retail sales. For us, airports are great locations because they’re full of people. It’s a great place to be for a brand like ours.”
What solutions do you offer now to enhance the airport experience for passengers and for airport workers?
“If you’re a passenger, let’s say you’re returning home from a trip and you just arrived at Reagan Washington National Airport, and you just want to see if Metro can get you home quickly, or if you should take a taxi or an Uber. Either way, you need information at a glance, without having to track everything down yourself.
For airport workers, we can make their commutes easier and let them know exactly when they need to leave to catch the train home. This is especially important since airports operate 24 hours a day.”
In which U.S. and international airports is your technology being used in now?
“We have a screen at San Francisco International Airport, working with the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The vast majority of our screens are in lobbies of multi-family apartments or commercial properties, but we have also seen success in retail, hospitality and university markets.
Recently, we partnered with Orange Barrel Media to put our content on outdoor screens in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, right outside of the Metro station where the information is most relevant.”
Why is right now the right time for TransitScreen technology?
“The process of traveling at an airport is stressful enough as it is, and larger ones can be disorienting. Right now, real-time data is increasingly becoming available about everything from transportation to security wait times to coffee lines, and there’s enormous potential if we take this ‘Internet of Things’ data and turn it into information that people can act upon. Placing screens that tell you how long it will take you to get to the airport train and when it’s leaving is just common sense, and helps make things easier for everyone.”
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What do you enjoy most about running this business, and what’s your biggest challenge?
“The best part is the diversity of the people I get to talk to. On a recent day, I met with the minister of commerce from a Middle Eastern country, a sustainability investor from the West Coast and an urban architect — all within two hours!
The biggest challenge for the company is learning how to be a company together. For me, that means learning to delegate.”
What’s one piece of advice you can share with entrepreneurs looking to innovate in the transportation space?
“Transportation, mobility and logistics are the ‘art of the possible.’ Have your vision, but don’t lose sight of economics — or physics!”