Wanderu Introduces One-Stop Booking Site for Intercity Bus, Train Operators

For years, travelers have been able to compare prices and schedules between multiple airlines in one place by using sites like Kayak.com. With the rising popularity of intercity bus options like Megabus and BoltBus, it has been a wonder why a similar functionality was not in place for those modes of transportation.

Until recently, there was no site that offered this service. Comparing these providers required making a separate trip to each company’s website – much like one must make separate trips to each individual carrier’s terminal or station.

Wanderu, however, was launched in 2012 and solves this problem by aggregating schedules from dozens of bus and rail services, including Amtrak, Boltbus, Megabus, and Greyhound. Wanderu originally focused on the northeastern United States but the site’s coverage now stretches across the country. After launching services in the Midwest in August of last year, co-founder Polina Raygorodskaya reached out to UrbanCincy to explain how it all works.

“Wanderu is the simplest way to find and book bus and train travel,” Raygorodskaya wrote. “We are the first ever comprehensive ground travel search in North America and have partnerships with Megabus, Greyhound, Boltbus and over 28 other major brands to help millions of people find and book the best trip at the best price in just a few clicks.”

We recently tested out the site by looking for travel options from Cincinnati to Cleveland on the morning of Monday, March 9. As a comparison, we also searched Kayak.com for flights on the same date.

Wanderu presented us with several Greyhound and Megabus options, with prices starting at just $1 and a travel time of around five hours. On the other hand, the cheapest flight available was $221 on US Airways, and still took over 9 hours as it required two layovers. The cheapest flight with only one layover was $284; and there were oddly no direct flights available for this busy route.

We also searched Wanderu for trips to other destinations, and were able to find service from additional carriers such as Barons Bus Lines.

While the service is akin to Expedia, it is a bit different in that when you select a trip on Wanderu you are sent off to the carrier’s website to make the purchase. Raygorodskaya says this is because Wanderu is not set up to handle the financial transaction.

An added convenience that could be added is the ability to book all aspects of a trip, including hotels and rental cars, the same way that sites like Kayak.com or Expedia allow. An even better service might be to create an integrated search of all travel options – bus, rail, and air – so that users can compare them side-by-side.

Until then, if you are looking to take a trip without the hassles of airport security and expensive in-flight wi-fi, you can search Wanderu to find the bus or rail option that best fits your needs.

Episode #45: Cincinnati’s Tech Scene

Recording The UrbanCincy Podcast #45On the 45th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, I’m joined by Alex Bowman and Chris Moore to discuss the technology scene in Cincinnati.

We discuss the role of organizations like CincyTech and Cintrifuse, efforts like QCMerge and HackCincy, and physical coworking spaces and hackerspaces play a role in developing our local tech community. Alex explains how a strong urban core is critical to attracting and retaining the talent startups need, and Chris talks about Gaslight‘s move from Blue Ash to Downtown Cincinnati.

I ask whether tech companies should become involved with local political issues, in response to Chris Moore’s Open Letter to Cincinnati City Council published in December 2013, and we discuss the need for more regional thinking instead of a downtown-vs.-neighborhoods approach.

Photo by Chris Moore.

Mapping May Impede Self-Driving Car Development

Urbanists, futurists and car enthusiasts buzz has been building over self-driving car technology. Traffic planners see them as a way to improve traffic flow on congested roadways. However; Slate’s Lee Gomes takes an in-depth look into the technology behind the curtain of the self-driving car and his conclusion is that it’s not ready for prime-time and it may never be ready. More from Slate:

But the maps have problems, starting with the fact that the car can’t travel a single inch without one. Since maps are one of the engineering foundations of the Google car, before the company’s vision for ubiquitous self-driving cars can be realized, all 4 million miles of U.S. public roads will be need to be mapped, plus driveways, off-road trails, and everywhere else you’d ever want to take the car. So far, only a few thousand miles of road have gotten the treatment, most of them around the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.  The company frequently says that its car has driven more than 700,000 miles safely, but those are the same few thousand mapped miles, driven over and over again.

Metro to Begin Selling One-Day Passes in November, Regional Fare Cards Next

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) will begin selling new day passes for Metro bus service on Sunday, November 2.

The new one-day, unlimited ride passes are part of Metro’s ongoing fare payment overhaul that began back in 2011 with the introduction of new electronic fare boxes.

The new day passes will be able to be purchased directly on any Metro bus as you board. Jill Dunne, Public Affairs Manager at Metro, says that all the purchaser will need to do is notify the driver before paying their fares. The pass is then activated upon its first use and will be valid for unlimited rides until 3am the next day.

The passes cost $4.50 for Zone 1, which is anything within city limits, and $6.30 for Zone 2. A pass purchased for either zone accounts for all necessary transfer fees.

Since these day passes will be ideal for visitors, you can also purchase them in advance at the sales office on Government Square. The passes can then be distributed to friends or family members and used at their convenience, only being activated upon their first use.

“Riders have been asking for day passes for several years,” Dunne explained to UrbanCincy. “They are great for visitors, occasional riders and anyone who plans to ride Metro frequently throughout the day without worrying about exact change or transfers.”

In many cities around the world, however, the idea of buying day or month passes is a thing of the past thanks to the advent of smart card payment technology. If Metro were to switch over to a system like this, which their new electronic fare boxes are capable of handling, it would allow for riders to use enabled bank cards or loadable fare cards.

“We are looking at all options for fares to make it convenient for our riders,” Dunne emphasized. “We have been working on ‘smart cards’ for a while and I hope we’d be able to roll them out in the future.”

Another new feature riders can soon expect, and has been rumored for some time, is a regional stored-value card that works on transit services offered by Metro and the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK). Metro officials say they are optimistic that will be available within the next few months.

Those interested in getting their hands on the new day passes can do so by attending a ceremony Metro will hold at Government Square on Monday, November 3 at 10am. To celebrate the moment, Metro employees and SORTA board members will be giving out 500 free day passes on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Rapidly Growing Cincybite to Expand Delivery Area and Service Offerings

Just about a year ago, a new food delivery service entered the Cincinnati market. The idea behind it was one not uncommon in other larger urban centers around the country, but was new to the area.

While it can be simple to get sandwiches, pizza, or Chinese food delivered locally, that tends to be the limit of your options. But Robbie Sosna, who had lived Miami, New York City and Los Angeles after growing up in Blue Ash, knew the city could do better. So he launched Cincybite last December.

What Cincybite does is partner with area restaurants to deliver their regular menu items to hungry customers around the city. Sosna said they first started with just six restaurant partners and delivered only during dinner time in the center city. However, after a strong start, Cincybite quickly added lunch delivery options and added an additional seven restaurant partners within two weeks after their initial launch.

The early success of the business is yet another example of the retail services not keeping pace with the city’s population growth. While the age-old idea of ‘retail follows rooftops’ may still be true, technology is also now allowing some of that to be bypassed through innovative on-demand delivery services.

“In New York and LA there were restaurant delivery services, and I was surprised to find none existed in town,” Sosna explained. “The response has been phenomenal and I’m working hard to expand the service through the metro area.”

This is not his first foray into the food industry. In 2009, he purchased his first Freshii franchise in Los Angeles before ultimately moving those operations to Cincinnati and bringing the popular fresh food chain to the region in 2012.

Cincybite’s offices are located downtown and are currently staffed by six employees who are tracking all sorts of data and usage patterns. The data they are collecting, Sosna says, is what is helping them determine what other restaurants to approach, types of food to add, and which areas to expand to next.

One area that has not yet been officially added to Cincybite’s delivery area is the city’s west side neighborhoods, but they say it is only a matter of time, and drivers, before that happens. As for now, the focus remains on the region’s center city neighborhoods and many on the city’s east side and along the I-71 corridor.

“When looking at future areas of growth, my director of ops and I study our current sales data and customer feedback,” Sonsa explained. “We’re looking at strengthening our variety of restaurants in our current zones and planning our growth north.”

When asked where those next areas of operations might be, he said that they are looking at Kenwood, Madeira, Blue Ash, Montgomery and Indian Hill, but also clarified that Cincybite has unofficially also begun serving the west side.

Growing Cincybite’s delivery area and food options is just the beginning of the company’s overall growth plans. They have just launched a new service that offers delivery of basic grocery items and other incidentals like batteries, cleaning products, toiletries, over the counter medicine, baby food and supplies, and snacks. Likening the service to Amazon Fresh, Sosna says that he is working with a number of other businesses in order to add even more items.

“We’ve had conversations with local pet shops, butcher shops, dessert companies and a variety of other businesses looking to add additional revenue and awareness to their brand,” said Sosna. “There really is no limit for what Cincybite can offer Cincinnati, and we’re working hard to expand the delivery zones so everyone in the city can enjoy.”

Those who want to use the service merely need to register for an account and then shopping as would typically be done with any online retailer. The website also allows customers to select the date and time they would like to have their items delivered, and also allows for the user to pre-select an amount to tip the driver.

But one thing that was made clear was that none of this would be possible for Sosna without the resurgence taking place in Cincinnati. Had it not been for that, he said he may have stayed in Los Angeles instead of coming home.

“The commute back and forth for 2.5 years helped calm my nerves, but as I opened my Freshii location and began spending more time in the city, I realized a lot of progress had been made and the city was headed in the right direction,” Sosna told UrbanCincy.

“The approval of the streetcar, construction of The Banks, revival of OTR, food scene throughout the city, investment in tech with Brandery and Cintrifuse, and GE selecting Cincinnati for their future operations center were just a few of the reasons highlighting how great the city had improved and made the transition all the easier.”