San Francisco is LEAPing Into the Transit Future

So Leap Transit has arrived. This “smartphone enhanced” private bus startup is now offering commuter service during peak hours from the Marina to downtown San Francisco.

This is another great example of the private sector taking city transportation matters in their own hands. San Francisco is ground zero for this type of innovation partly because of some serious transit gaps, partly because of, well, Silicon Valley.

Leap is doing a few cool things that the city (and cities everywhere) would be wise to adopt:

  • Streamlining the boarding and payment process (but more about this in a minute)
  • Live updates about where buses are on the route (NYC has this with BusTime already)
  • Live updates on how many seats are left
  • Consistent fare for all hours of service (no surging!)
  • Payment via stored credit card info

They also offer food and drinks for sale, sort of like an airplane, and have re-envisioned the interior experience. While these are cute innovations, they’d be far too expensive for city governments to implement if they were to take notes from Leap and others like it.

On the downside, Leap has made a few odd choices:

  • That streamlined boarding process? You need to scan a QR code upon boarding. QR codes are a little clunky so I’m not sure why they went with that. Maybe we’ll see improvements on this in the future. The bluetooth check-in sounds more promising, but may also be a battery-killer.
  • An intensive sign-up process
  • No wheelchair-accessible service at the moment (apparently there are plans for this going forward)

Other points of interest:

  • They collaborated with MUNI on where to place their routes (good partnering!)
  • They’re attempting to “connect” people on the bus with social profiles — this is a compelling idea of the bus as public meeting space but…
  • The service is clearly targeted for a specific socioeconomic segment — I can imagine some SFers being turned off by the overpriced snacks

Still, here we have a venture-backed startup taking on a big city problem with a targeted solution. It’ll be interesting to see how the service grows.

Learn more about Leap Transit by clicking the thumbnail headlines here: