Israeli Startup Optibus Uses Tech to Cure Public Transit Woes
In theory, public transportation is a cheap, convenient, and dependable way to travel. In practice, commuting by subway, bus, or train is often a logistical nightmare. With poor service, rising costs, and aging infrastructure, municipalities are desperate for solutions and riders are frustrated and restless. Ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft have wooed some passengers away from public transit, with neo-taxis that can be reliably summoned, tracked in real time, and paid for via smartphone. Driverless cars are being touted as the vehicles of the future. Meanwhile, a new crop of software companies is betting that new technology can rescue the old public transit systems from extinction.
“Public transit is not reliable enough,” says Eitan Yanovsky, CTO of Optibus, an Israeli software startup. “People are suffering from delays and a lot of these are happening because of improper planning.” To help cities run their bus fleets more efficiently, flexibly, and economically, Optibus offers proprietary cloud-based software driven by AI machine learning that analyzes historical and real-time passenger data to optimize service. The ultimate goal is to cut cost and improve service, making happier municipalities and happier riders.
“Public transportation planning and scheduling is a very complicated problem,” Yanovsky says. “Public agencies used to use techniques like pen and paper in order to plan and optimize their operation. Over time, they moved to more traditional desktop-based software, on-premise installation, which helped them to do the operation better. But still it’s a very limited system with very limited computer power, which takes a very long time to run, and a slow process of upgrading. This is where we come into the picture.”
Like many startups, Optibus was hatched in a dorm. Yanovsky met Amos Haggiag, the son of an Israeli bus company CFO, at Ben Gurion University, where they studied mathematics and computer science. The duo began wrestling with algorithms to tackle public transit scheduling problems before ultimately founding Optibus in 2014. Since then, the company has secured clients in Israel, Europe, the UK, and the US, and recently raised $40 million of Series B funding.
Optibus is now expanding, pitching governments on their track record of helping buses flow more smoothly and run on time. Ultimately, the mission is simple yet profound: helping people go where they need to go, and in the process restoring public faith in public transit.