To Match The Growing Number Of Ground Travelers, Startup Wanderu Launches A Kayak For Bus and Train Schedules

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A startup called Wanderu, pronounced “Wander-oo,” is hoping to become the Kayak of motorcoach and train travel, a sector of inter-city transit that does not yet have a leading ticket aggregation site. Wanderu, which accumulated about 20,000 user sign-ups in private beta, is rolling out to the public today.

Wanderu closed a $2.45 million seed round early this month led by Alta Ventures, with participation from Orbitz.com Chairman Jeff Clarke, former Greyhound bus CEO Craig Lentzsch, and Drummond Road Capital Inc, along with a number of angel investors.

The site aggregates bus and train schedules, which would otherwise require checking a number of sites to find the cheapest tickets and find connections between cities. The user inputs his or her start and end addresses, and from there Wanderu provides potential itineraries complete with connections and transit directions to and from the closest station.

The idea, Wanderu co-founder and CEO Polina Raygorodskaya told us, is that you could be in the middle of nowhere, and Wanderu would tell you exactly how to get where you need to go. The site is rolling out in the Northeast first, with plans to expand to the Southeast soon.

Aggregating bus information has been a complicated problem to solve, Raygorodskaya said, and one that the team has been working on since October of 2011.

“If you look at Kayak, they pay money to license data from airlines. Within the bus industry that information’s not out there. It’s extremely outdated. We’ve had to build it from scratch, because there are no APIs. We’ve partnered with bus companies to work with them to get access to their data.”

Wanderu now has 12 partners, including BoltBus, Go Buses, Concord Coach Lines, and Trailways of New York. With these bus lines, the site has 80% coverage in the Northeast.

Wanderu takes a cut of each ticket sale made through the site. Although Raygorodskaya did not say what percentage cut that was, she did say that they make more on average than travel searches do for flights.

The bus market is larger and growing among different demographics than one might expect. Raygorodskaya said that a survey done by the National Transportation Safety Board found that last year there were 750 million people traveling by intercity bus versus 730 million people flying between cities.

“It’s becoming much cooler to travel by bus. Back ten years ago, the demographic was people who couldn’t afford other forms of travel and older people because buses were cheaper. Now about 74% of bus travelers are ages 18-35. That’s a huge demographic shift,” she said. “They all started offering plugs and WiFi, which is super important to our generation. Buses offered that before planes and trains did.”

Wanderu has a mobile app in the works that will likely be released in the next few months. But the site was designed to be mobile friendly from the get-go, because so many bus and train travelers book their transit last minute. In beta, they saw about 25% of users doing so, Raygorodskaya said.

It’s not the first start-up to realize the potential in bus travel, though. In May, the Canadian start-up Busbud launched internationally with a similar goal of becoming a “Kayak for intercity bus travel.” (And there’s always the much less aesthetically pleasing GotoBus.com.)

As startups catch on to the growing prevalence of bus travel, it would not be surprising to see others try to get in on the market. The fact that users can search routes based on their exact destination address is a huge bonus when Busbud only shows service to bus hubs. But that’s predicated upon Wanderu giving their users complete coverage of regional bus lines, including that last 20% of the Northeast. If they can do that, it could be a very useful tool indeed.