Every week we’ll profile someone pushing the envelope in the commuting world. Our first subject is Ryan Croft, the founder and chief operating officer of TransitScreen, a live transportation display about all methods of commuting. You may have seen a TransitScreen mounted in the lobby of your apartment or office building—it’s in 40 cities in five countries.
Q: What are the top 3 trends affecting how people commute in the D.C. area?
A: One has to be the bikeshare explosion, both in terms of dockless models and electric ones. The dockless ones are really just adding to the number of options people have available, and the number of bikes on the streets. And the e-bikes, well, those help people replace trips they might have otherwise taken by car. It’s a huge game changer. Another is the presence of newer mobility options like ridehailing and, more specifically, shared ridehailing. Via, a competitor to Uber and Lyft, actually features primarily shared rides, and gives you a designated corner at which to meet the driver. Deliberately designed routes like this cut down on extra driving, and people are generally willing to walk a block or so to meet a car. The third would have to be the parking cash-out option for employers to offer as benefits. A transit subsidy isn’t particularly strong if your employer still offers free parking, but if you have the option to receive the difference as cash? A lot more people would be choosing transit.
Q: Do you think dynamic tolling in Virginia—the 95/495 Express Lanes and I-66 HOT Lanes, and eventually 395 Express Lanes—will affect car commuting behavior?
A: Yes, hopefully. The real key here is giving people incentives to get out of their cars—in this case, facing either a financial penalty for a quick commute or an endless slog to the office. At a certain point, it’s going to become faster and more cost-effective to even drive to a Metro station and take the train the rest of the way in. Eventually, maybe that turns into biking to the Metro station. It’s all one step at a time.
Q: Metro has a lot of problems, but there aren’t many realistic solutions. If you were Marion Barry for a day, what would you do to fix Metro in the near-term?
A: Well, if I were Marion Barry for a day, I’d be dead. But if I were all-powerful and had the ability to make changes to Metro, I’d probably improve the signage at the stations. Even in the 7000-series cars, the information about other modes of transportation at the station is lacking at best. “Metrobus”—which bus? Is it coming soon? Do you need to rush from the train to catch it on time? We have so much more information than that, and people deserve to be able to access it in a simple, useful way.
Q: What makes TransitScreen unique? What can it give me that I can’t get from apps I can download onto my smartphone?
A: TransitScreen combines all your mobility options for your location in one place, which saves you the time of having to take out your phone, open the app, find out where you’re going, etc. We feel very strongly about saving time and making sure that transit is a good experience all around. If someone tries to take the bus for the first time and has a bad experience, they might not try again. If they know exactly when the bus is coming, get there right on time, and have a successful trip—that could be something they replicate the next day.
Q: What’s your most important project right now?
A: Our most important project right now is MobilityScore, which tells you how easy it is to get around a location without a car on a scale of 0-100. It takes into account real-time and historical data about availability and frequency of different modes of transportation—public transit, bikeshare, carshare, ridehailing services. We want to help commuters at every step of the journey, from choosing an apartment or home to actually making transportation decisions.
Q: How does D.C. compare to other cities with a TransitScreen presence? Worst or somewhere in the murky middle?
A: It’s hard to say! As far as options, especially with the newer mobility options like dockless bikeshare and scooters, DC is actually pretty high on the list. Another city I would shout out is Seattle, which is making huge efforts to expand its current public transit offerings and is consistently lowering its drive-alone rate. San Francisco is another big one in terms of the diversity of options available.
Q: Tell us about your commute. Where do you live and how do you typically get to work in DC? What information do you use to plan your commute?
A: I actually live in Arlington, near the Court House Metro stop. Our office is in Farragut North, so I take the Metro in every day. I actually live in a building that has a TransitScreen in the lobby, so I check that every day on my way out to check the train time or see if I need to adjust my commute.
Q: Can you tell us about your worst commuting experience, in DC or otherwise? What made it the worst ever?
A: My worst commuting experience would have to be any time the Orange Line just wasn’t running trains because of an accident or track work or anything along those lines, and people weren’t given the appropriate information. If people have information ahead of time, they can make a different choice—there are plenty of buses that go from Arlington to downtown DC, but without being able to properly make a decision there ends up being a lot of backlog. It’s just a terrible experience for everyone involved. Luckily, that doesn’t happen too often!
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