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Three years with LA Metro

What we did (and what we learned) working with one of the giants of American public transit

April 3, 2023

Today our partnership with LA Metro comes to an end.

Three years ago, Metro went searching for an official app — at no cost to them, or their riders.

They chose Transit. Since then, we’ve been the official app of America’s third-largest transit system. And we couldn’t have asked for a better partner.

As part of the deal, Metro promoted Transit to their riders, while we provided transit data support, helped Metro boost its customer satisfaction, and ferried the right information to the right folks — whether it was surveying Spanish speakers about their bus service, or sharing Metro’s NextGen bus plan info with affected riders. The whole time, no money changed hands.

Today, Transit is used by hundreds of thousands of Metro riders every month. We’re the open, interoperable, all-in-one answer to navigating the city — from riding the bus, hopping on Metro Rail, finding a Metro Bike Share bike, or grabbing a Metro Micro ride. In a city famous for its car culture, we’ve helped make car-free commuting a little bit easier.

Maybe even a lot easier.

Now: our three-year contract is up, and we’ve decided not to renew the partnership on the old free terms. Metro is studying whether it wants to develop its own app. If we can help Metro in their new app ventures? We’ll pack our Ray-Bans and be on the next train to Union Station.

We’ve worked with many teams at Metro over the last three years, and they’re colleagues we absolutely adore. Before we branch off into our own separate lanes, let’s take a stroll down Sunset Boulevard to see how we first became the Abbott to their Costello.

How it all started

Roll the tape back: it was March 2020 (yeah…) at Metro headquarters. We had just deplaned from LAX and caught the FlyAway to Union Station. Metro was hosting selection interviews to choose its new official app. We were excited.

Little did we know at the time, but we’d caught one of the last flights from Montreal to Los Angeles. By the time we landed, Tom Hanks had announced that he had tested positive. The NBA had cancelled all its games. Travel was banned from Europe. The world had declared a global pandemic. In the back of our minds, we wondered whether we should have made the trip at all.

The interview went great. We boarded an empty flight. Made it back home. Waited in quarantine. Then, three weeks of nebulous limbo later, our team got the news on April Fool’s — because you can’t make this stuff up: Metro had selected us as their official app.

In the three years since that fateful day, Transit and Metro have helped each other be our best selves.

We Zoomed. Slacked. Emailed. We charted the dramatic fall in transit ridership. We surveyed those left riding — and found that the “essential workers” still using Metro at the height of the pandemic were largely women and people of colour. We started rolling out COVID-specific features for Angelenos, like:

Metro wasn’t able to get real-time data from its hardware, so we worked with them to predict crowding levels using historical patterns. We later exported this functionality to other cities.
The pandemic set off an international operator shortage, and the best laid transit schedules were thrown into disarray. Without enough staff, trips were being cancelled at the last minute. Metro started to flag these cancelled trips in their data feed, and we relayed the info to riders.

And when the miracle jabs finally arrived? We worked with the LA County Department of Public Health to show vaccination locations in the app, so everybody from Malibu to La Mirada could get the shot.

But while the pandemic threw a gigantic wrench in the proverbial bus-spokes, we undertook these COVID-oriented projects in addition to what we’d originally planned with Metro.

Like integrating Metro Micro microtransit.

Riders have tapped on Metro Micro trip suggestions more than 250,000 times in Transit. When we first added Metro’s on-demand transit service to the app in April 2021, just 2% of Transit users in LA had the Metro Micro app. Thanks to our joint efforts, it’s now up to 9%.

Or helping send updates and surveys in Spanish to the 26% of Transit users in LA who have Spanish as their phone’s default language — their voices are often underrepresented in traditional feedback channels, like IRL meetings, clipboard questionnaires, and Twitter.

With Transit, Metro solicited rider feedback on big service improvements for Eagle Rock, Vermont Avenue, North Hollywood, North San Fernando Valley, and Sepulveda Pass. They let riders preview Metro’s NextGen bus plan. Promoted half-price LIFE fare programs. All within Transit.

There was regular app maintenance, too: fixing bugs and helping to improve Metro’s real-time transit data. Plus smaller undertakings, like putting voting dropboxes and polling places across LA County in the app.

And there were projects we had hoped to work on together — like integrating mobile payments with TAP, and selling bikeshare passes in the app with Metro Bike Share. (These are features we already support in plenty of other cities… including just up the road in Las Vegas!)

Thanks to our joint efforts over the past three years, Metro riders now take pride in the app they use to get around: whether they’re using Transit to get to school, to work, or to the Oscars.

How it changed

During the time we were working with Metro, we also launched Royale, a paid subscription tier of Transit that allows app users to support our team directly. It fuels our work in our 300+ supported cities — without bombarding riders with ads or selling their data. Royale lets us stay true to our convictions, without making compromises on the quality or reliability of our app.

Royale doesn’t depend solely on riders, either: transit agencies can also buy Royale subscriptions for their riders in bulk. Today, more than 100 agencies sponsor Transit directly.

Which is all fine and dandy. Except it left us and Metro in a bit of a pickle: the partnership we signed in 2020 was still in effect. It precluded any money from changing hands, and it didn’t include Royale (which was barely a twinkle in our eye when we first became partners). 

Even as we launched Royale in other cities, we didn’t bring subscriptions to Los Angeles — since it would have been against the spirit of our partnership.

Instead, we offered Royale for free to all Metro riders — at no charge to Metro — for the duration of our partnership.

Now the partnership with Metro has reached its predetermined expiration date. That’s showbiz.

In the meantime? Transit’s not going anywhere. We’ll make sure Metro riders are still getting the most accurate information possible in the app. But we’ll now ask riders to support our team directly with Royale, just like we do elsewhere.

What’s next for Transit

We’re eagerly collaborating with other transit agency partners on new projects — just like we did in LA.

A few hundred miles up the coast, Muni is working with Transit to monitor bus stop cleanliness across San Francisco, to survey riders about trip speed, and to manage route frequency expectations. They’ve also given all their riders Royale, gratis.

For many of the 100+ of agencies working with Transit, we’re their all-in-one app: integrating mobile ticketing and bikeshare and microtransit, improving their real-time data reliability, contributing to their bus network redesigns via targeted rider feedback, and more. 

From Calgary to Columbus to San Antonio to Saskatoon to Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis, San Jose, Vegas, and beyond, Transit is a keystone piece in the rider experience jigsaw.

All this support — from riders who subscribe to Royale, and from agencies who see the value in giving it to all their riders — makes our work possible. Makes everyday life better for riders. Makes it easier to live in a city (even Los Angeles!) without a car.

Moreover, in cities where the local transit agency hasn’t sponsored Royale subscriptions for its riders? We give it away for free to riders who can’t afford it. And we’ll continue to do this in Los Angeles, regardless of our partnership status with Metro.

But if you live in LA and you can afford Royale? Consider supporting our team

We’ll continue to be there for Metro’s riders, and keep working to make the best app possible for riders in LA — and everywhere. With the support of millions of riders and a holy alliance of transit agencies, we’ll keep dreaming up new ways for Transit to make life better without a car.

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