TransLoc Steps on the Gas With $8M for Mass Transit Software

For commuters and transit system operators, travel planning is a headache. Many commuters use a hodge-podge of transit modes to get around cities. Meanwhile, mass transit operators have a hard time gathering accurate and timely data about how their systems are used—data crucial to planning expensive and necessary upgrades.

TransLoc, a transportation technology startup based in Durham, NC, thinks its software can ease the pain of both the traveler and the transit operator, and is announcing today that it has raised $8 million in financing to bring its offering to more users across the country. SJF Ventures and Fontinalis Partners co-led the Series A round, which includes participation from Patient Capital Collaborative, a fund within Sustain VC; as well as Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM) founder, chairman, and CEO Marc Benioff, through his Efficient Capacity Fund; and Thomas McMurray, formerly a general partner at Sequoia Capital. The round also includes debt financing from Square One Bank.

SJF, which has offices in Durham, New York, and San Francisco, invests in companies focused on sustainability and conservation. Detroit-based Fontinalis, founded by Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) executive chairman Bill Ford, focuses on investments in mobility and transportation companies. The latter venture firm has invested in startups such as Cambridge, MA-based air cargo startup SmartKargo, and Palo Alto, CA-based car-sharing startup Wheelz.
TransLoc CEO Doug Kaufman says his company has grown organically since its founding in 2004, and now claims more than 140 municipal transit agencies and universities as paying customers. TransLoc doesn’t disclose revenue, but Kaufman says the company did not need to raise outside funding. However, the time was right to raise money to scale operations, he says.

Kaufman says that there’s been a favorable market shift for TransLoc. Riders increasingly prefer access to different modes of transportation over owning cars. People are embracing buses, trains, bikes, and even ride-hailing apps as their first choice in transportation. “That movement has been happening and gaining speed, rapidly, over the last 12 to 24 months,” Kaufman says. “We’ve positioned ourselves right in the middle of it.”

For travelers, TransLoc works as a free app installed on a smartphone that helps users plan their trips. The app also shows the location of a bus or a train, along with an expected arrival time. Each transit vehicle’s GPS coordinates are sent to TransLoc’s data center, via cellular networks. By taking into account a vehicle’s direction, position, and speed, TransLoc’s algorithms can predict the arrival time for a vehicle. That information is transmitted to transit system users. The app is available for Apple and Android devices. TransLoc says riders use its app more than 3.5 million times a month. The company also claims that its app can increase ridership by up to 25 percent.

Kaufman acknowledges that since TransLoc’s launch, many other transit-tracking apps have entered the marketplace. But he says the company sets itself apart from others through the analytics it offers transit operators. TransLoc sells several different Web-based software products, priced depending on fleet size, that help operators manage their systems. Among the software offerings is a tool mines data from the TransLoc mobile app on commuters’ smartphones. By tracking anonymous rider trip data, this visualization and planning tool illustrates rider demand and gaps in service, Kaufman explains. The tool replaces surveys and questionnaires that transit systems have historically used to evaluate their services and plan for upgrades or route changes. “We can now provide objective data so they can make data-driven decisions,” Kaufman says.

TransLoc was founded by two NC State University computer science students. Kaufman says they wondered why they had to stand around in the rain waiting for campus buses. As avid gamers who played online with other players on the far side of the world, they asked why they couldn’t just look up local bus location information online. The university told them it wasn’t technologically possible. The students turned their idea for real-time bus tracking into TransLoc, and NC State became the company’s first customer. Founding CEO Josh Whiton continues to be a board member.

Kaufman says TransLoc experienced steady growth in users for its first nine years, when the company’s main offering was the mobile app. New tools for transit systems were developed and introduced within the last two years. TransLoc will use the infusion of capital to expand its product and engineering teams, as well as its sales force. Kaufman says his nearly 50-employee company will add another 35 to its headcount in Durham over the course of 2016.

In an effort to connect even more pieces of the transportation puzzle, TransLoc has a partnership with ride-hailing company Uber. TransLoc’s app helps commuters plan their trips on public transportation, using Uber to fill in that first or last mile of a trip. In early March, TransLoc announced a pilot of this program, which is being evaluated in a partnership with GoTriangle, the transit authority operating buses in North Carolina’s Research Triangle region. A second pilot launched last week in Memphis, TN.

“As we’re really building out this multi-modal experience, our hope is you can go anywhere in the U.S., [and TransLoc’s app] will show you the best way to get there,” Kaufman says.

Frank Vinluan is editor of Xconomy Raleigh-Durham, based in Research Triangle Park. You can reach him at fvinluan [at] xconomy.com Follow @frankvinluan

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