First Over the Bridj

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Bridj is a limousine startup company that tries to make commuting more efficient through a system based on ride sharing and dynamic data about where customers are—and where they want to go. It offers point-to-point bus service, but it does not have set stops for dropping off or picking up riders.

Instead of the typical bus-transit scenario where people travel to the vehicle’s scheduled route, Bridj—much like the car-sharing services Uber and Lyft—uses real-time data to take the transit to where the people are. Prices range from around $3 to $8— in between the cost of a regular bus ride and that of a private ride in a Zipcar, Car2Go, taxi, Uber, or Lyft.

Bridj began service in Washington, D.C., in mid-April. (Its debut was in Boston in June 2014.) I am a nerd for urban innovations, so I jumped on the opportunity to try it out—on its very first morning of operations in the District. I had assumed that the service might be overwhelmed with demand on its first lap out of the gates, so I expected a packed shuttle, but the driver told me I was only the service’s eighth or ninth customer. Essentially, I was a guinea pig in Bridj’s soft launch.

My Monday morning adventure began at 6:10, when I opened the Bridj app that I had downloaded to my phone the night before. While brushing my teeth, I tried to reserve a ride. I entered several combinations of departures and destinations that were all inside two blue blobs on the map that defined the Bridj service area, which I had studied on the Bridj website. But I kept getting an error message that Bridj was not serving that area yet.

Finally by 7:30 a.m., I was chatting with a Bridj customer service agent, who—since my app was not working—agreed to work behind the scenes to arrange a ride for me. The agent told me to take a 13-minute (uphill) walk from the Metro Center subway station to McPherson Square. From there, I would be able to catch only a westbound ride via Bridj. My morning commute was taking on the feel of a scavenger hunt.

Once at my designated pickup location, at around 9:15 a.m., I used the chat function on my phone to ask the agent when I should expect to be picked up. She said pickup was scheduled for 9:36 and that my destination would be Dupont Circle. Unfortunately, Dupont was nowhere near my desired destination—and I could have walked there in the time it would take for the Bridj vehicle to arrive, anyway.

After a few more delay notifications, I finally got picked up at 10 a.m. During my wait, I was Tweeting with Bridj customer service, Bridj chief executive officer Matt George, and curious urban-planning friends from coast to coast.

Despite the service’s growing pains, I am excited about the prospect of this new mobility option and am honored that my city is a testing ground for Bridj’s pioneering service. Once it works out the operational kinks and is able to provide more reliable service location information, it will spur investment in large swaths of the city that are just a little too far from transit—and open up more land for Washington and other cities to meet their growth challenges.

There are still several details of its service in DC that Bridj needs to resolve, but these are relatively easy fixes:

  • Since I had looked at the app and website, I was expecting a Bridj-branded vehicle, and I almost missed the one that pulled up because it was a Reston Limousine shuttle bus with an 8.5’x11” sign that read Bridj on the side.
  • I was waiting by the open commercial loading zone in the K Street service lane, assuming that’s where the shuttle would collect me. Instead, it pulled up at the WMATA bus shelter out on the island. Use of public bus loading areas by private shuttles has been an issue in San Francisco and other cities, and it seems fair to not take loading capacity from the truly public buses for use by a private shuttle.
  • The vehicle I rode was not accessible to all users. Reston Limousine has accessible vehicles in its fleet, so if Bridj wants to avoid the legal challenges facing Leap, a luxury commuter shuttle in San Francisco, they should use vehicles that are open to all.
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