Forthcoming mobile app helps plan ‘bike + transit’ trips

Forthcoming mobile app helps plan ‘bike + transit’ trips

A sample Nimbler trip in San Francisco.
(Images courtesy Nimbler.)

A new, free iPhone app that lets you plan crosstown trips that combine transit, personal bicycle and bikeshare is preparing to launch in Portland, its creator says.

The startup, Nimbler, launched its first app in the Bay Area last year and plans to add Washington D.C. in early July.

“Portland is next on our list because of the strong bicycling and transit community there and the commitment of Portland and Oregon to open data,” said CEO John Canfield, who describes himself as a “transit rider and occasional recreational bicyclist.” “But we do not yet have a timeframe.”

If multimodal trip planning software sounds familiar, it should: Nimbler is actually built using the open-source software developed primarily by TriMet two years ago as part of its web-based multimodal trip planner.

Nimbler CEO John Canfield.

But TriMet has never developed a mobile interface. Part of the reason the agency gives its code away for free is to let developers like Canfield take on the expense of designing for mobile phones.

“I heard about Open Trip Planner in December 2011, which was a few months after I started working on Nimbler,” said Canfield, a software engineer by training who recently worked as an anti-fraud executive at eBay. “It has made a big difference, because the OTP community has built a solid routing engine that we can build our services and apps on top of.”

Canfield said Nimbler aims to make money by eventually integrating “taxi, limo, shuttle, ridesharing, carsharing, and parking” and collecting referral fees from those services.

But more generally, Nimbler (like TriMet’s OTP) is promising because it will do something that even Google Maps can’t yet: advise someone traveling from Kenton to Milwaukie to bring a bike on the Yellow Line so they can quickly connect to the 70 bus at Lloyd Center.

Nimbler lets users choose among various mode combinations.

“Subway maps are pretty easy to understand,” Canfield said Tuesday. “Once you get buses into that, things get a lot more complicated. … When you add bicycle to that, and the bike-bus transit option, there are just so many combinations.”

Canfield said the service will be especially valuable to people just getting to know Portland, or life without a car.

Nimbler is one of the first in a new generation of local transportation apps: in the same way TriMet’s open data policy has made transit easier to use by allowing private app developers to design their own interfaces and concepts to serve riders, TriMet’s open-source trip planner is making it easier for private developers to build trip planning apps without starting from scratch every time.

Last year, the Open Trip Planner software returned to Portland in the form of Moovit, a transit app developed in Tel Aviv that uses real-time information to track trips. In June, WhichBus LLC introduced a great-looking new trip planning app that also uses OTP.

Nimbler isn’t yet available for Android. On its website, Nimbler is recruiting a “founding software engineer.”

It’s interesting that private companies seem to be embracing the free OTP software, while public transit agencies, many of which pay tens of thousands of dollars annually for proprietary trip planners, generally haven’t yet.

Canfield said Portlanders will be able to start signing up to receive Nimbler information “in the next few weeks.” For the moment, if you want to be notified when Niimbler launches here, use the contact form on Nimbler’s website.

Comments are closed.