- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - At a time when technological innovation is driving the evolution of personal transportation - when all your options for getting around town can be accessed from a smartphone in the palm of your hand - a tech startup is striving to provide real-time transit information just about anywhere you look in Washington.

TransitScreen, the invention of Ryan Croft and Matt Caywood, is as it sounds. It is a display of all the nearby mode options: Metrorail, Metrobus, DC Circulator, Capital Bikeshare, Zipcar, car2go, Sidecar, VRE, Montgomery County Ride On, and others. The information can be displayed on a physical screen mounted on a wall or projected onto a sidewalk.

TransitScreen launched last year and now has several screens up around the District of Columbia Department of Transportation headquarters in Southeast Washington. One is being tested for the lobby of the U.S. Department of Transportation in the same neighborhood. The product can also be found in a handful of other government buildings, apartment lobbies and stores.

Croft and Caywood have hired former DDOT director Gabe Klein, now a visiting fellow at the Urban Land Institute, as a strategic advisor to help place TransitScreen in more businesses and inside and outside Metro stations throughout the district. Klein’s experience as an innovator who launched Capital Bikeshare and assisted in Zipcar’s introduction was seen as invaluable to the TransitScreen partners.

“It is very important to give people real-time information, on the fly, when they are leaving a meeting, leaving their apartment, walking by a Metro station,” said Klein.

Now the challenge is convincing bars, restaurants, grocery stores and landlords that TransitScreen would make their customers’ and tenants’ experiences better. The tech startup’s founders believe it has an opening to do so, as droves of young residents who do not own cars move into Washington. Some millennials may even be growing tired of always having to open an app on their smartphone to access transit information.

“People are actually getting a little burned out looking at their phone all the time,” Klein said. “TransitScreen is an outgrowth of the collaborative consumption economy. The world is changing. Cities are expensive. The Millennial generation is more focused on experience than ownership.”

Klein recalled the initial reaction to Zipcar and Capital Bikeshare from property owners reluctant to try something new. Eventually, they saw both services as essential. He believes the same can happen with TransitScreen.

“When we started Zipcar, I remember going to developers and apartment building owners. They said, ‘We don’t really want that on our property,’ or ‘We will charge you $300 to $400 per parking space,’ which is above market,” Klein said. “But a couple years later, when we mainstreamed the concept and everybody was using it, they were coming to us saying, ‘Can we please give you a free space on our property?’”

“The same thing happened with Bikeshare. Businesses said, ‘I don’t know what this is! I don’t want that ugly kiosk in front of my business,’” Klein said. “But two years later, we had major chains and grocery stores saying, ‘Can we pay you $56,000 to put one of those in front of our building?’”

Klein said TransitScreen would be useful outside Metro stations, where there is usually no electronic data about train arrival times and nearby mode options. Riders have to enter the station to see that information.

“They also should be on the inside of Metro stations. So when you exit the train you can see where your modal connection is,” he said.

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Information from: WAMU-FM, http://www.wamu.org