Demand for Transit Tech Fuels Startup's Rise in Local Government

Transit agencies seeking one-stop shop services and alternatives to expensive GIS software are helping Remix make its way into the local government market.

by / December 28, 2015
Flickr/Marcos Vasconcelos

Transit planning startup Remix, previously known as Transitmix, has continued to carve inroads into the world of transit planning — a move credited to both demand and the platform’s aptitude for community building.

Since the company's launch in 2014, Remix, based in San Francisco, has acquired more than 50 transportation agencies as clients — and an upswell of support from planning officials in the U.S. and abroad.

Co-founders Tiffany Chu, Daniel Getelman, Sam Hashemi and Danny Whalen have worked to ensure that the company is an affordable alternative to the standard array of available geographic information system (GIS) services — if not a complementary tool.

Its interactive platform reimagines planning by combining drag-and-drop route maps with U.S. Census and ridership data. The result is a dashboard that creates new routes and transit stops while simultaneously calculating costs and forecasting ridership.

Given that three-quarters of venture-backed startups fail in the U.S., Remix appears to be a promising anomaly in the often fickle marketplace of government tech. Alex Baca,  marketing manager at Remix, said growth is steady as the team of founders and staff advertise by word of mouth, at events and with direct outreach.

“We go to a lot of conferences. We try to meet planners where they are and talk to them about why we can help them,” Baca said. “But the reason why we're doing, I think, is that this is really something that people need.”

The point has weight when considering many route planners are limited to outdated tools taken from a jumble of resources — Google Earth, printed maps, Microsoft Excel sheets and so on.

“It makes their work a lot easier and allows them to focus on the stuff that really can make a huge difference in planning — like getting to understand communities, hearing people's input, and actually analyzing data,” Baca said.

Apart from purely functional purposes, the momentum may have much to do with this aspect of civic engagement. The platform is dressed in a citizen-first design, meaning developers wanted the Web app to be complex enough for planners yet understandable for citizens. Integrated in this is a handful of sharing features and buttons for resident feedback.

In Mesa County, Colo., Baca said the Web app was used as a civic engagement tool for the county's Regional Transportation Planning Office (RTPO). The agency, which serves Grand Valley Transit, had tasked Planner Biz Collins with coordinating a complex series of bus route modifications to avoid overlap and improve transit times. With Remix, Collins said public access to the tool allowed the entire community to follow along while drawing feedback. What’s more, because the information was digestible, it was of equal benefit for county dispatch, road supervisors and leadership that wasy unfamiliar with the nuances of GIS.

“Transit planning is really pedantic," Baca said, "and I think that something that's fast and flexible and can tell you what you need to know — when you need to know it — is really powerful for a lot of agencies.”

Claire Johnson-Winegar, planning manager at Ventura County, Calif.'s Gold Coast Transit, is among the startup's new customers. After only a few weeks of use, Johnson-Winegar said its cost estimation and mapping tools were applied to the county's short range transit plan, a five-year forecast for Gold Coast's operations. With the platform's route projections for ridership, route cost, and population density, she said her team was able to illustrate the outcomes of various funding levels.

"It really helped us to create different routes, different options of routes, lots of different variations and to see how much they would cost," Johnson-Winegar said.

An advantage to the startup’s pricing structure, she said, is that a single license subscription services an entire agency, something traditional GIS licenses – that ballpark around $5,000 a user per year – don't usually accommodate. This acts as an enticing option, especially for smaller transit agencies operating on tighter budgets.

“This means that not just the planners have the tool," Johnson-Winegar said. "Anyone here can use it and create any sort of concept they want – which allows you to get as creative as you want."

Remix is exploring new features for 2016. It recently launched a new route timing tool that allows users to drop Jane, a virtual person, on a map to see how far she can go within a certain amount of time and at any time of the day. The team is scouting for potential datasets and new features to add in the coming year. Baca said this could mean inserting city zoning boundaries into the maps, providing new sharing options, or enhancing the current interface.

“Our planners say things like, ‘You guys are great, but would you also do this or add that?’ and we totally take these suggestions into consideration,” Baca said. “I can tell you that we hear back from agencies all the time.”

Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.