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Public transit displays offer options for commuters

Thursday - 5/1/2014, 7:23am  ET

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TransitScreen displays real-time information for a variety of transportation options, from bike share to Metro and more. (Courtesy TransitScreen)

WASHINGTON -- Figuring out the best way to get from Point A to B in D.C. can require a bit of research, not to mention a workout for your thumb once all of the Metro, bus, car share, bike share and ride share apps are checked.

But one company is hoping to make commutes less of a process.

Display screens broadcasting real-time information for a variety of public transportation options are popping up throughout the D.C. area -- from government buildings to apartment lobbies and coffee shops. In other cities, information from these screens is even projected on public sidewalks.

The screens are a product of TransitScreen, a transportation software company that got its start in Arlington's Mobility Lab two years ago.

TransitScreen co-founder Ryan Croft says the city's changing landscape has created a need for multi-modal public transit information in the area.

More apartment developments are choosing not to build parking garages in some of the most desirable neighborhoods of the city. A 60-unit apartment project planned near 14th and U Streets NW and a smaller micro-unit project in Logan Circle are two examples of this recent movement.

In some areas, information from TransitScreen can be projected on public sidewalks, reaching more people. (Courtesy TransitScreen)

"Studies are showing that millennials are really preferring access over ownership, and that extends to cars," Croft says.

"Developers realize that it's very expensive to build parking, especially when people don't even use it. Micro-units and no-parking developments are a thing of the future and a thing of now."

Croft says the public displays encourage more people, not just those sans car, to ride public transportation. He says it shows people all of their options and even helps to "demystify the bus."

He says, "A lot of people are very intimidated by buses because they say, I don't know where it goes; I don't know where it picks up.' We want to let people break down those barriers ... And simply by letting people know where it is, where it is going and when is it coming is very powerful."

Croft is a self-proclaimed "big user of transportation apps," but he says they have limitations.

"You can only reach so many people [with an app] -- people who have a smartphone, people who have service, people who know what app is out there that is useful for the situation," he says.

A TransitScreen in the Bay Area between downtown Berkley Park Station and the University of California Berkley, for example, reaches an estimated 3 million people each year, Croft says.

"We strongly believe that we're a service to the masses. If you're in a building, [whether] you're the CEO of that building or the janitor, both people have equal opportunity to see the information on the screen in the lobby," Croft says. "We're not an app for an elite group or the middle class; we're the sustainable transportation information resource for the masses of a city."

The information TransitScreen provides is web-based, meaning it can be displayed on a mobile phone, a tablet, a desktop or a flat-screen TV. Croft says pricing options vary, but the company offers an upfront or monthly payment plan.

While the screens are becoming more common in big office lobbies, luxury apartments, and government buildings, Croft says he hopes to see them in grocery stores, bars and other commonly frequented urban locations.

"We see this being the ubiquitous language of transportation in the city. And it'd be a reliable and convenient way [for] people [to] understand what all of their options are, not just one single mode."

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