We're gonna need a bigger phone. Image by Canaan Merchant.

The app known as “Transit” was already my favorite app for getting transit directions and real-time arrival info. Now, they've done two smart things that make it even better.

First, they hired Stephen Miller, who was a terrific Greater Greater Washington contributor until he moved away in 2011 (and who's not this guy). Second, which affects your life much more: Transit now will show you the locations of dockless bikeshare bikes from all of the new services in DC.

The app already had Capital Bikeshare and car2go locations (and for car2go, shows you which cars are Smart and which are a Benz), so now you have a bonanza of travel options. Even better, it will give you directions which look at the time to the nearest dockless bike, or CaBi, or transit services.

Directions on the Transit app. (But don't do this particular trip as you're not allowed to leave dockless bikes on the Mall.) Image by Transit App.

I know this post sounds like PR copy for Transit, but I'm just really excited because every time I decide to try the “DoBis,” I have to open up 5 different apps and it's really annoying!

Transit won't be able to do anything about the times the app shows a bike somewhere but when you arrive, it's nowhere to be found; unless they have some integration with military spy satellites I don't know about, they're just using the same data the bike services' apps themselves show. However, if one bike turns out to be a ghost, seeing all of the icons will let you know if there is another nearby.

How Transit gets the data

There's an open data standard, called GBFS, bikeshare systems use to provide locations to apps. Capital Bikeshare offers it, but none of the new dockless bikeshare systems operating in DC do. Transit probably had to reverse-engineer the way the app on your phone gets the data from a central server and request it the same way. I've suggested that cities actually insist that dockless operators support GBFS.

I've asked representatives from Mobike, LimeBike, and Spin about GBFS feeds, and to varying degrees they've been open to the idea but aren't doing it right now. These are startups which are focusing on making their own apps and services better, and they'd have to decide if it's in their best interest. On the one hand, having their bike availability in an app could bring in more customers who are looking at Transit. On the other hand, they'd have less opportunity to get customers to always just go for their app.

But I'd argue it's good for the services. People are mostly going to go whatever bike is closest anyway; I'm not interested in walking 2 extra blocks just to get, say, a LimeBike over a Spin or something (but maybe I would for a Jump). They already are offering monthly subscriptions, which is a way to form a stronger customer bond.

GGWash board member Abby Lynch said this will make her try dockless. She wrote,

I've been hesitant to sign up for the dockless bikeshare systems…. In Park View, we have relatively few stations, and the bikes all flow downhill towards downtown—if all the dockless systems have the same problem, then I'm not going to bother with them. I poked around the various websites for the new systems when they launched, but couldn't find any good maps of where the bikes were without creating a login, and…I just lost interest.

I suspect Abby may still find not so many bikes in Park View during morning rush, but at least this app will let her try, and potentially become a customer of these companies if and when they have availability and/or do some rebalancing.

One of the companies may be able to block Transit from using their data or threaten them legally. However, I'd strongly criticize any operator that tried to, so if you work for one of them and are reading this, DON'T DO THAT. THANKS!

Have you tried out the new feature? What have you observed?

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.