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Forthcoming mobile app helps plan ‘bike + transit’ trips

Posted by on June 27th, 2013 at 10:10 am

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.

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Comments
  • Spiffy June 27, 2013 at 10:43 am

    I’m thinking that Google Maps is probably close to having bus+train+bike combined trip directions…

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  • q`Tzal June 27, 2013 at 10:53 am

    When will the hipsters get it through their thick skulls that there are fewer users on Apple’s iOS?
    Some devs will claim ease of programming for a closed device environment but all it shows is laziness and a desire plug in to social and financial exclusivity. IE: we have it, you don’t, neener-neener.

    If these software startups are truly interested in making useful tools that benefit all they need to roll out Android and iOS at the same time or at least in the biggest market share; there are software tools that make this blisteringly easy for developers so one can only assume that this is intentional on absentmindedness.

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    • Anne Hawley June 27, 2013 at 1:23 pm

      Especially given the development tools Google rolled out at Google I/O a few weeks ago. I’m not remotely a developer myself, but if the audience response to those tools is anything to go by, the bumpy path of coding for multiple devices has been largely smoothed.

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    • John Lascurettes June 27, 2013 at 2:25 pm

      There are fewer users on iOS according to some sources (debatable), but it’s been shown repeatedly that iOS users actually use mobile apps and data much more than their Android compatriots. This is the condition of every free plan coming with an Android phone – those are going to people that just want a phone, not a smartphone.

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      • q`Tzal June 27, 2013 at 5:47 pm

        Please cite you sources.

        What I’m hearing from the dual OS dev community is that iOS users will pay more for an app up front where Android users go for free apps. This the oft repeated mantra used to justify why iOS gets shiny new aps first. It also is claimed to be the main difference for the last few years.

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  • Todd Boulanger June 27, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    As for why Public Agencies are not embracing private companies for trip planners, most transit agencies are not Trimet, most are more similar to CTRAN and not that entrepreneurial when it comes to moving past the paper (or static web page) scheduler. It is both risky (dealing with small quick start ups without a track record) and most transit agencies traditionally of the mindset that they move buses vs. moving people. This is slowly changing but so slowly when it comes to the day to day stuff.

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  • SteveG June 29, 2013 at 10:19 am

    I’ve used Nimbler in SF, and it’s really good. The most important thing it does is clarify just how efficient BART and CalTrain can be, when they’re combined with a bike at each end of a trip. In my experience in the Bay Area, using a bike at each end typically knocks 40-50% off the total end-to-end travel time. And Nimbler SF makes that very apparent.

    Nimber DC was also recently launched and it’s even better, because it incorporates the Capital BikeShare system, so for suburban commuters it’ll tell you:

    - When to leave your house, by bike or by foot, in order to catch the Metro
    - When the train will leave, and arrive at the stop closest to your destination
    - Where the closest Capital BikeShare station to the Metro stop is
    - Where the closest Capital BikeShare station is to your ultimate destination
    - How long it’ll take you to walk from that CBS station to your ultimate destintation

    And it does all this effortlessly, showing you various options. If you tell it when you need to arrive, it’ll tell you when to leave. Just like Google Transit, only intermodal.

    Rumor has it, Nimbler will be incorporating Car2go, Zipcar and Getaround soon, as well.

    Pretty spiffy.

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  • Pete July 1, 2013 at 11:21 am

    In my experience in the Bay Area, using a bike at each end typically knocks 40-50% off the total end-to-end travel time.

    IMO, bike commuting is the ‘best kept secret’ in the traffic-laden bay area! ;-)

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  • Marco July 1, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Bit surprised Google Maps hasn’t already introduced such a concept however the app is still very beneficial and I can see it becoming quite a hit amongst cyclists planning their routes.

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