Next time you visit downtown San Francisco, you may want to stop by the gleaming-new, $1.4 billion Chase Center arena. You can’t miss the gigantic, building-sized screen just above the main entrance. After a game, the screen displays the gamut of transportation options—from mass transit to bikeshare—within walking distance and how long of a walk it is to access each option. TransitScreen provides the real-time and location-specific software. Its co-founder and COO is FC2 Trustee Ryan Croft.
TransitScreen is the poster child of DC’s tech startup scene. It sits at the intersection of public policy, socially conscious business and a profitable market opportunity. TransitScreen spun out from Arlington’s Mobility Lab, which supported creative ways to mitigate traffic congestion. Local businesses had been encouraged to display paper transit schedules on kiosks in office lobbies. A neuroscience-trained, data-cruncher named Matt Caywood had an idea to digitize that information onto easy-to-read screens. But Matt worried he didn’t have the business chops to launch the software at scale and turn a profit.
Meanwhile, Annandale-born Ryan Croft was running a profitable adventure travel company. For ten years, he crisscrossed the globe, organizing group scuba diving, yoga and backpacking trips. Matt approached Ryan with his idea, Ryan put his travel company on hold, and in 2013 a great partnership was born. Matt could write the code, while Ryan could run the business operation.
The company has been on a whirlwind of success. Revenues have doubled every year for four years. By the end of 2020, its software will be used on screens in 2,000 buildings. Nearly all are in the United States, but TransitScreen has sights set on global expansion.
The timing is right for its services. Cities are embracing new ideas about how to move people and goods more efficiently. They are modifying parking requirements for new construction, while adopting “Transportation Demand Management” strategies to offset traffic congestion created by additional commuters. Buildings are providing showers for bike commuters and installing bike racks. They can also display a TransitScreen in the lobby to help workers make better decisions about their commutes. JBG Smith was TransitScreen’s first client in Arlington.
Ryan has long been a disciple of transportation alternatives. He spent a year in college studying abroad in Spain where he saw firsthand how other countries organize transportation priorities differently. More people took transit, walked or biked. “We seem to have it backwards here in the United States,” he says, “where cities are built for cars and not people.” In Stockholm, for example, cars aren’t even allowed in the downtown business district. After so many years with his adventure travel company, he knew all too well how cities could become overwhelmed with traffic congestion and smog. He’s delighted that his company is part of the solution making cities more livable, the environment cleaner and the public healthier.
The dream is that TransitScreen becomes the Kleenex or Xerox of this rapidly-growing space. It has grown to offer more diverse services and products. Displays can be custom-tailored to include walking times to nearby restaurants, bars or entertainment venues. In 2017, it began giving locations a MobilityScore to give users a sense of how easy it is to get around without a car. In 2018, it launched a mobile app called CityMotion, which is like TransitScreen in the palm of your hand. It’s currently piloting new software that will help employers on-board employees with commuting options. By flagging non-car alternatives to employees at the get-go, they are more likely to fall into non-car commuting habits.
At the Federal City Council, Ryan just joined the Transportation Committee. He admires other members of the Committee who have deep knowledge about the city, and is excited to learn from them. For his part, he will bring deep knowledge and a fresh perspective about new mobility and traffic decongestion. The District is embarking on a renegotiation of its public space, including curbside management, how much parking makes sense and what sort of rules should govern pedestrians, electric scooters or bikes.
Ryan doesn’t hide his personal transportation bias. He commutes downtown by metro. Of his office’s 35 (mostly Millennial) employees, not one drives to work. “The happiest workers,” he insists, “walk to work.”