Talk to anyone who commutes from Coolidge Corner to Kendall via the T and you’ll hear the same complaints: slow route, packed trains, and delays. Alternatives like Uber come at a much higher cost.
Enter Bridj: a “pop-up” bus service aimed at providing better service than public transportation at a lower price point than Uber. Its business model centers around creating affordable, convenient, and efficient transportation. For $3-$5/ride, customers can reserve a seat on a 14-passenger coach bus equipped with Wifi1. Bridj takes a data-driven approach to selecting and optimizing routes, most of which target neighborhoods not conveniently connected by the T2.
More than 10,000 Bostonians volunteered for Bridj’s beta test in May 20143. Bridj has since added routes in Boston and recently expanded to D.C. The CEO estimates that Bridj sells ~70% of its tickets4.
Key to this early success is Bridj’s operating model, which leverages smart people, mobile technology, and a unique planning process to convince customers to pay more for a higher-quality commute. The following sections describe the operating model and links to the business model in more detail.
Using technology to add convenience and collect data.
Customers purchase tickets through the Bridj app, which allows users to enter their start/end locations and see applicable routes. The app also integrates walking directions to the pick-up location and a GPS-tracked location of the vehicle5. This provides customers with a convenient, time-efficient way of booking a trip.
Every time a person enters a start/end location, Bridj gets another data point for a desired route. The next section describes how this relates to the business model.
Finally, Bridj’s vans have Wifi, a level of service not provided by competitors like Uber1.
Employing a data-driven approach to route selection.
When Bridj selects a new neighborhood for expansion, it uses 15-19 data streams, including the mobile app, the census, and social media6. Bridj uses this data to find high-demand routes, predict route speed, and pinpoint central pick-up/drop-off locations6.
Bridj also adjusts its route and pick-up/drop-off locations using this data, allowing routes to adapt to fluctuations in demand and short-term bottlenecks like roadwork. Users can only purchase tickets up to a week in advance, suggesting that Bridj revisits its routes with similar frequency.
These processes allow Bridj to target routes that have high potential demand, which is critical to maintaining the carpooling effect that keeps Bridj cheap6. It also allows Bridj to select routes that are up to 50% faster than public transit, thus bolstering the efficiency portion of its value proposition7.
Leveraging a team of experts in traffic analytics and public transportation.
Thinking about the big data tradespace presented in class, much of Bridj’s data analytics fall into the prescriptive area; Bridj uses data analytics to optimize routes under uncertainty. Bridj has focused on hiring talent in this area, specifically “people whose life thesis is making transportation more effective.” 7 This talent is responsible for finding high-demand routes that keep Bridj prices low and creating efficient routes.
A unique aspect of the Bridj team is its expertise in Boston and D.C. transportation. Bridj’s CTO is the former Director of Research and Analytics for the MBTA and one advisor was the Director of the D.C. Department of Transportation3,8. Tense relationships with local government have shut down potential competitors in other cities6. Bridj’s team has deep insight into the goals/methods of public transportation authorities and can anticipate actions that would upset local officials. This may be Bridj’s biggest leg-up on potential competition.
Bridj has carved out a unique position and shown much promise in its infancy. It leverages its human capital, technology, and processes to generate enough demand to keep prices low and to provide efficient alternatives to public transportation.
Looking into the future, Bridj has mitigated the effects of potential new entrants by quickly hiring talent in traffic analysis and public transportation. That said, does ticket price need to increase to be profitable? Can Bridj retain customers if prices go up? As a lifelong WMATA/MBTA customer and operations research geek, I’m rooting for them.