Earlier this year, transport app Citymapper started running an experimental bus route in central London. Today, the company announced that its service is now fully-licensed — meaning it can start charging customers. Citymapper’s first route will open to the public sometime in late August or early September, and will run on Friday and Saturday nights, 9PM to 5AM, right through East London.
But why is an app running a bus route? Well, Citymapper say it’s because it thinks it can offer something that London’s public transport doesn’t. With the help of its user data, the company says it’s identified areas and times that Transport for London — the city’s transport agency — aren’t currently servicing.
As the firm explains in a Medium post: “We found central London fairly well covered during the day by existing services, but we identified bigger gaps in the night network. People in London are staying out later, especially in East London. For example there are more late night destinations on Commercial Road, without any night bus support.”
A spokesperson for TfL commented: “The service will link a string of venues across east London and will operate ahead of the launch of the Night Overground in December, transforming night-time connections across the local area. We will be assessing the Citymapper service to see what lessons might be drawn for night-time transport provision in the future.”
Being a tech company, Citymapper also says its buses will be smarter than the average double-decker. The vehicles will anonymously count the number of passengers onboard; smart displays will give riders clear information about upcoming stops; while Citymapper will use its data to inform drivers about potential road and traffic problems. And, there’ll be USB chargers under every seat — the perfect service to offer on a night bus when your phone’s about to die.
The route is launching with the approval of Transport for London, but it won’t be tapped into the agency’s contactless Oyster card payment system. Instead, riders will be able to pay with contactless credit and debit cards, or with their phones, using Android Pay or Apple Pay. There’s no word on how much the company will charge though.
Silicon Valley tech firms trying to re-invent the bus has become something of a meme, with people often pointing out that the companies are just trying to provide a service for rich people without inventing anything new. Citymapper has obviously clocked on to this, though, and in the Medium post announcing its new commercial route, it pre-empts the criticism by giving two separate definitions of what it’s up to:
That’s cleared that up then.