The shift away from our current fossil-fuel centric transportation system and toward e-mobility is intended, at its core, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This, in addition to making it easier for people to move about their cities.
- Ride-hailing services have made life more convenient but hasn’t done much to alleviate traffic or the emissions of a vehicle moving one person.
- The answer may have been staring us in the face, as outdated as the current bus system sounds.
- Hyper is an on-demand bus system, meaning it takes you where you want to go without the need for transfers and multiple routes.
- Multiple bus owners and operators will form the Hyper network, giving riders peace of mind and keeping things scalable.
- Hyper will begin operation in Detroit, Michigan and eventually expand into other high-density markets.
Before conceiving of e-mobility, though, we as a society tried to alleviate — if not solve — those issues with public transportation systems. Bus routes are a prime example of that effort.
Instead of forcing people to ride in individually owned internal combustion engine-powered cars in order to get around, we ran hundreds of buses loaded with dozens of commuters through the city on a preordained route. Thereby we hoped to reduce both roadway overcrowding and also tailpipe pollutants cars would otherwise be putting out. What’s more, bus services also made commuting more accessible (at least ostensibly) to those who couldn’t afford to own a car.
What if turning toward e-mobility meant more than implementing a one-for-one shift from internal combustion engine-powered vehicles to electric ones? What if even our bus systems were fatally flawed and in need of a serious rethink? That’s the belief of Hyper, one of the first ride-hailing-style public transit company in the U.S.
“Unless you’re in a city with the density of Manhattan or Hong Kong, fixed-route [bus] service doesn’t work,” said Andy Didorosi, founder of Hyper. “You’re talking about the ‘bus schedule taped to a telephone’ problem. You say the bus is going to show up at 11:45 every day. But it rarely does.”
So what’s Didorosi and Hyper’s solution? To offer a dynamic bus service, which he believes is faster and more enjoyable than a fixed-route system. Intriguingly, Didorosi is not the first person to come to this conclusion. Helsinki, Finland actually tested a dynamic bus service between 2012 and 2015 called Kutsuplus.
Kutsuplus moved people more quickly and efficiently than the traditional bus system. It also benefited from incredibly high rider satisfaction rates. By most accounts, it would have been a success if it had been given time to grow and mature. Ultimately, the clever new dynamic bus network was axed — the victim of budgets gutted by the global economic downturn of the time.
Despite its having been scrapped, organizers shared the data and learnings from Kutsuplus, which you can read here.
How does Hyper work?
Hyper’s initial test market will be in Detroit, Michigan, where Didorosi has operated the Detroit Bus Company since 2011. Other cities are in the pipeline, but Didorosi wouldn’t say which.
Hyper will build on Kutsuplus’ model of running small buses around Detroit, rather than larger coaches more normally associated today with municipal bus systems. Not only are smaller buses cheaper to run, building a system based upon more compact buses could empower individuals to run a single bus (or large van) company of their own through the Hyper platform.
Furthermore, Hyper will play double duty as a platform operator through which smaller bus operators can offer their services to would-be customers at an Uber- or Lyft-like flat rate and a microtransit company. In this way, Hyper aims to lower the barrier not only to bus ridership but also bus ownership. At the same time, Hyper will ensure safety for its riders.
“When you call Johnny’s Party Bus LLC, you don’t know whether they’ve paid their insurance, which is a $5 million policy,” Didorosi said. “You don’t know how many times they’ve had a bus down due to safety … we’re going to have a really high safety base level because, as a bus company, we know what to look for.”
Rather than a clunky or crash-prone app that tracks bus whereabouts, Hyper will instead follow bus locations through a device that plugs into the bus’ diagnostic port. This allows Hyper to keep tabs on the buses in its service system. Plus, it also enables Hyper to verify the bus vehicle identification number. And that VIN will be referenced against federal and state safety inspection databases. If that weren’t enough, Hyper will also inspect the buses — à la Uber and Lyft — to ensure the bus isn’t, as Didorosi put it, “a pee-soaked fiberglass hell hole.”
The interior of one of Detroit Bus Company’s buses. | Photo: Detroit Bus CompanyTo catch a ride, you tell Hyper where you want to go. A bus will pick you up from your location and drop you with in an eighth of a mile of your final destination. This eliminates long waits and transfers between bus lines. What’s more, it cuts down on the number of underutilized buses.
That last fact is important because studies have shown that diesel-burning buses running at below half capacity are worse for the environment than of those same riders were driving their own gas-powered cars.
Who is Hyper for?
Public transit funding rises and falls with the economy, as it is funded mostly by income taxes in the U.S. Despite our booming economy, according to Didorosi, transit investment is at an all-time per capita low. So Hyper is designed for the bottom 90% of the population.
“Everyone says ‘we need a transit system so good that even rich people will take it,'” Didorosi said. “That’s a red herring; you don’t need to convince the top 10% of people to take it … what we’re trying to do is create a solution for the rest of the 90%.”
This flies in the face of the sentiment of Matt Parker, CEO of Daimler’s public transit mobility brand moovel. Parker recently said publicly that rich people need to invest more in mass transit.
In low- and medium-density cities, cars, no matter how they’re operated — from individually owned and driven vehicles to ride-hailing vehicles operated by Uber and Lyft — will reign supreme for the near future, Didorosi believes. So he’s going to serve those who will benefit most from a quick, affordable, and eco-friendly transit solution.
Will Hyper work?
Hyper isn’t the first of its kind in the U.S. since the Kutsuplus trial. Kansas City attempted its own on-demand busing system with Boston-based microtransit startup brand Bridj, which was deemed a flop and folded in March of 2017.
Didorosi tested the initial concept of Hyper in late 2018, when he utilized the Detroit Bus Company to take Detroiters to the polls for the midterm elections in a project called Vote Bus, which by all measures was a smashing success. So, despite the hurdles and the previous failures of similar efforts, Didorosi is optimistic about Hyper.
It fills in where other similar systems failed: Hyper is more of a market-driven solution than Kutsuplus or KC’s Bridj. Those schemes were driven by municipalities and subsequently suffered from a lack of funds and infrastructure. I mean, it makes sense. Why would a town like Kansas City throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at new vans and buses to test a newfangled transit method when it has buses it’s already invested in?
However, that attitude is the crux of the problem. Most every analysis I’ve read concluded that, given enough time and a big enough infrastructure, on-demand busing would work — and be vastly superior to route-based systems.
So, why does Hyper have a good chance of succeeding where others have failed? Precisely because it builds on the scrappiness and drive of entrepreneurs like Didorosi himself.
There are 48 registered bus companies in Michigan, Didorosi points out. And those are ones that operate buses that carry 16 or more passengers. There are countless more small bus and van business in the state. There are hundreds more in the coastal states.
Rather than trying to invent a market — and investing in — a bus fleet from scratch, Hyper taps into one that already exists and, potentially, expands it.