megabus
 

Three Kayak-like startups for bus ticketing metasearch

Tomorrow, a startup called Bustripping officially launches with a party on the rooftop of the Manhattan headquarters of Gawker Media.

It enters a race to become the Kayak of bus ticketing metasearch that is currently being led by Wanderu and Bus Catchers.

After users punch in their destination and travel dates, each website pulls a list of long-haul buses that serve the itinerary. A user can sort the results by cost, trip duration, and operator.

Technological challenges

Most bus companies do not provide anyone with APIs of schedules and fares, which makes it difficult to build a metasearch site.

Startups need to create proprietary systems to collect data, ensure the data is accurate, and enable customers to be redirected into the check-out pages of these bus companies websites in simple and fast ways.

US ticketing boom

The US is a growth market for inter-city buses. In 2011 and 2012, passenger volume for curb-side, long-distance bus operators like Megabus and BoltBus grew by 30%, according to a study released in January by DePaul University.

US intercity bus growth

new discount bus service

Europe and Asia are also seeing strong growth in bus ticketing, and a dire need for metasearch–especially on mobile-optimized websites. There’s no true mobile bus websites. Usablenet conversions is as close as it gets currently.

Here’s the lowdown on the latest news from each startup.

Best placed to become the next Kayak
Wanderu
The pitch: In private beta. Since Tnooz profiled Wanderu last November, this Boston startup has seen the most growth in traffic, sales, funding interest and marketing coups. Examples: It won the award for “Most Innovative Technology” at SXSW Interactive in March (the same award that Hipmunk and Siri received in previous years).
Coverage, as of today: The main US corridors. Includes Boltbus.
Biggest flaw today: Still in beta, 15,000 users signed up but hardly anyone has actually booked a ticket through the site yet.
Funding situation: It closed a fresh funding round in April (amount undisclosed). Investors include Jeff Clarke, chairman of Travelport.
Next move: Public launch in the summer. Site is fully mobile optimized, but even so, it is planning to release mobile optimized checkout soon. The company is hiring for four positions, including full-stack software architect and a dev ops engineer.

Launching this week with buzz
Bustripping
The pitch: The first website and mobile app for Kayak-style comparison bus shopping in North America.
Coverage, as of today: Focusing on routes in the Northeast (mainly NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, and D.C.), as well as L.A. to Vegas, San Diego and other southern California routes.
Biggest flaw today: No coverage of Boltbus or Megabus, the largest discount players.
Funding situation: Seeking $2 million by end of the year. Debuting with $30,000 in loans and cash.
Next move: The company is talking with companies in Chicago to deepen its coverage of the Midwest. An iPhone app is on track to be available for free download from iTunes by the end of June.

bustripping

The dark horse of bus metasearch
Bus Catchers
The pitch: Metasearch for US that works and has super-fast response times. Its seamless integration with Megabus and Boltbus is impressive.
Coverage, as of today: Northeastern US, half-dozen most popular destinations, with the largest operators included (such as Megabus and Boltbus).
Biggest flaw today: Single-person operation. Can it scale?
Funding situation: Sweat equity.
Next move: The site is run by Nico Jimenez, who will be starting a PhD at Stanford in the autumn. So the site’s next moves are to add air travel, Amtrak, CO2 consumption estimates, and more locations. Jimenez says he has developed a framework for automatic web-browsing click by click and html parsing that will allow the site to function maintenance-free, using a assortment of Python scripts that pull data from the various bus websites twice a day.

megabus

Who can become the Kayak of bus travel?

It will be a long while before any one of these startups breaks out of the pack and gains significant consumer traction in their geographic market. The reason is best summarized by Polina Raygorodskaya, CEO of Wanderu:

The reason behind it is two fold: the difficulty of building the technology like this (you need to be both the middle layer data provider like Sabre and the consumer facing site) which requires you to have direct partnerships with carriers and a brilliant engineering team to solve the complex data problem.

If you look at the bus space, it is a very decentralized system with un-standardized technology and no data feeds and there are tens of thousands of possible routes and stops across the U.S. alone.

This is far more than you see in the airline space so it is a very complicated problem to solve.

For that reason, Wanderu seems to be doing the best job of positioning itself to become the Kayak of bus metasearch in North America. Its CTO/Co-founder has over 15 years of senior level programming/engineering, and the company has five additional full-time engineers, creating an excellent engineer-to-biz-dev ratio of two to one. The startup now belongs to PayPal incubator space.

Brutal business

Pombai, a Bangkok-based startup that Tnooz previously profiled, couldn’t get the funding necessary to keep going so it is shutting down.

Previously, Bus Junction attempted to do bus ticketing for the northeastern US, but it shut down in 2010. Catapulter, which strove for multi-modal search for the northeastern US, has been inactive since 2011.

NB: Image courtesy of didbygraham via Flickr/Creative Commons.

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Sean O'Neill

About the Writer :: Sean O'Neill

Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.

 

Comments

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  1. Andy

    I could be wrong, but isn’t pricing considered to be copyright information that can’t be scraped off the websites(like the RyanAir case from a couple of years back). If there is no API to get pricing data, I wonder if the bus companies can come after these startups?

    Sorry to learn about BusJunction – used them a couple of times when I did BOS NYC DC and it worked pretty well.

     
    • Michael Pavey

      Sadly it seems you were all too right, Andy. BusCatchers has now gone the same way as BusJunction, stating threats of legal action by the operators as the reason for shutting down. A real shame as it was a very handy little tool!

       
      • Tomas

        Pricing info does not hold a minimum degree of creativity. Prices alone, as facts, can not be copyrighted. See a case Feist v. Rural: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feist_v._Rural

         
        • Nico Jimenez

          It’s more complicated than that, because web scraping involves more than just publishing pricing data. It also involves using a website in a way that may violate its user agreement. Of course, most serious websites will let google scrape it’s data since Google visibility is critical to a site’s success. However, letting a smaller search site scrape their data may not be in their best interest because it will not hugely afffect this site’s visibility while potentially diverting customers to cheaper alternatives. I suspect that Google’s monopoly on search is an impediment to the growth of specialized search engines. It’s easier to game a big unspecialized site like Google than it is to game a specialized site like BusCatchers. On a specialized search site, a site must compete purely on the basis of cost and user ratings. On Google, sites compete on SEO expertise, keywords, and marketing. Obviously, bigger companies have serious advantages in these areas.

           
  2. Martin Rusteberg

    with the long distances and air travel readily available in the us, i think it would make sense to integrate other modes of transport with a comparison and ranking in regards to convenience and a filter a user could define to personalize the result. there are similar sites like this in Europe, e.g. fromatob.com is quite a comprehensive one…

     
    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      Martin,
      Thanks for your comment. Multi-modal search is definitely a huge growth category, and Europe and Asia are ahead of North America on that front.

      Best,
      Sean

       
      • Marty

        Very true. See my comment above about the buying habits of the young generation.

        Multi modal is coming, but as with anything it must materialize. At RidePost we are working on integrating the long distance travel markets.

         
  3. bigdog

    @miramon, there are dozens of bus companies that travel the same route so comparison shopping would be nice. look up the numbers for the intercity bus travel from NYC, Boston, Phildelphia, and DC- HUGE market

     
    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      Thanks for chiming in. As someone else has said, it’s not a sexy product, except for the potentially high commissions.

       
      • Marty

        Agreed.
        A new generation of “buyers” are accustomed to one stop shopping (Amazon, Zappos, WalMart, Kayak, etc). This is a big step forward for affordable transportation options that continue to grow.

         
  4. Miramon

    How big a business can this be? My bias is negative, but I have no real information about the market.

    I suppose that most bus travelers only need to compare fares once in a very long time, taking the same route frequently, and that vacationers will not frequently use the service, but that’s just assumptions speaking, not data. From the capsules you provide, these startups smell to me like they are already in desperate need of exit, but that could just be cynicism….

     
    • Marty

      For reference:
      MegaBus does over $600 Million in revenue
      Greyhound is over $1 Billion in revenue

      The transportation market in general is growing as new options and newly accessible routes become available at a more affordable price for a generation of people seeking to travel more at a younger age than previous generations.

       
    • Nico Jimenez

      I agree with you, Miramon. As the founder and lead developer of BusCatchers, I am very glad I am not relying on BusCatchers as a source of income. For most of the US, there are only a few bus companies available: Greyhound and Megabus, hence there is hardly a need for bus meta search here. On the east coast, there are a larger number of bus companies so I think such a site is useful here.

      Probably the biggest opportunity for bus meta search is in South America, where TONS of people take the bus all the time.

       
 
 

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