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Swiftly Aims To Be The Waze For SF’s Dysfunctional Public Transit System

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It’s 11:05 and you need to be at a meeting across town in an hour. The problem is you are car-less and San Francisco’s public transit system sucks.

It’s a mere 4 or so miles you’ll be traveling but it will take you the entire hour to get there (and possibly longer). You’re also at the mercy of Muni, which may or may not be on time, or might stop in the middle of the tunnel for a while, or your bus might decide to just not show up or the driver may inexplicably ask everyone to get off the bus, as also sometimes happens here.

Strange but true, in San Francisco I find it often takes just as much time to walk somewhere as it does to take the bus.

Public transportation app Swiftly launches out of beta in San Francisco today with just under one million in funding and an aim to do for public transportation what Waze did for Google Maps – save us from commuter hell.

Swiftly has been in beta but called itself Swyft. The app so far has gathered 45,000 users, according to the startup, but was a mere add-on to public transit app Nextbus Swyft is rebranding itself as Swiftly today and is now more of a competitor to Nextbus.

But Swiftly will have to stand out to compete with Nextbus as well as  Moovit, Routesy, and many others – none of which had breakout success.

Will Swiftly become the go-to app for public transit in San Francisco? I tried it out myself and I have to admit I was impressed. Swiftly will tell you if you have time to walk to catch the next bus or MUNI line and will tell you down to the second when it expects your ride to get there.

Co-founder Jonny Simkin says the app uses an algorithm called Metronome that works with MUNI’s GPS location system and crowdsourced information to determine when the next bus will arrive. He says it improves using machine learning over time to get more accurate results.

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When you open the app, Swiftly gives you a list of nearby transit stops and a countdown timer to show you how soon the next bus or Muni rail is coming. The numbers are in real-time based on public and crowdsourced data.

What sets this app apart from the competition is that it actually counts down to the second for arrival times and uses information provided by other commuters to give a better idea of what’s happening in real-time, which few others services offer. Clicking on ‘home’ for example, gives you your list of transit options and how long each route will take. Mixed in with your results is information on how long it would take to walk or bike to your destination and how many calories you’d burn. And if you decide Muni would take longer than you want to wait, Swiftly also integrates with UberX to let you know timing and cost of getting a car instead.

The app’s exact timing gets more precise the closer to the time you need a ride. So if you are looking to go across town in the next 5 minutes it’ll be pretty close but if you want to look up a route 30 minutes out it might not be as accurate.

Getting around on the public system in SF is often aggravating. Light rail, buses, trains and traffic don’t work together here and is likely one of the reasons Uber was able to grow here. I’ve only been using Swiftly for a day or so but find it helpful so far. It will be interesting to see if Swiftly becomes the go-to app for public transit here and elsewhere.