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The Citizen

With RideScout, an HKS alum links you to Boston

Copy of BostonAndroidMap Copy of BostoniOSBike Copy of BostoniOSList Copy of ICON Copy of Ridescout Wordmark TMBy Ted Zagraniski, Culture Editor

While no official figures exist as yet, you may safely bet that a large number of the 500-plus HKSers who are soon to graduate will find their next (or first) employment in one of two places: Washington DC or Boston. Besides walkable street grids, monumental architectural icons, and an increasingly young and successful population, these two cities share one other characteristic. Their commuting traffic is horrible!

Each year, people all over the world lose countless hours – and potentially billions upon billions of dollars in productivity – simply be sitting idle as they make their way from where they live to where they work, and back again. As modern societies across the globe grow into the “new normal” of a warming planet, increasing populations and sprawling urban areas; plucky innovators are busy giving all of us new ways to complete what scientists call “the journey to work”.

In Boston and the surrounding cities, the options are well known to Harvardians. We have public transportation (commuter rail, light rail, heavy rail, and bus), Zipcar (proudly founded here in Cambridge) and Hubway (Boston’s answer to that age-old question: “Where can I borrow a bicycle right now?”). Lesser known options also proliferate: Hailo, MassPort, Parking Panda … the list goes on. In Washington DC, the list of possible options is more than double that long: There are at least 15 different transportation services competing for your journey-to-work. How on earth is the average commuter, student, foodie, hipster or explorer supposed to make sense of this mess?

Enter RideScout, an app created – as HKS ’02 graduate and app co-creator Joseph Kopser said – “out of the frustration of trying to get a ride out of Arlington, Virginia, down to the Pentagon every day, because DC has so many options”. At the time, Kopser and his fellow RideScout creator Craig Cummings were serving the United States Army, and dealing with legendary Washington DC traffic along with the confusion born out of too many competing transportation options. When Cummings heard Kopser say he “just wanted to solve the simple problem” of his journey-to-work, inspiration struck.

At the time, Cummings reflected on the trouble of making sense of all DC’s transportation options and observed, “That’s a company: We’re not going to help just you get to work. We can help millions of people every day.” And, from that remark, RideScout has evolved.

Today, RideScout covers five U.S. metropolitan areas and more than 26.5 million Americans (or 1 out of every 13 people in the entire country). For an app that launched just six months ago, the rate of growth has been staggering. Many of the reasons behind this spectacular success are the things that set RideScout apart from its transport app peers.

Kopser explained, “RideScout allocates resources more efficiently in transportation than is being done today.” Because your average transport system or app is really only designed to connect you – the consumer – to one mode of transport, you are making transportation choices based on limited information. Would you save money by switching or combining modes? Before RideScout, there was no way to be sure.

RideScout “applies marketplace forces in the palm of your hand,” said Kopser. “Right at the point of sale, you can say, ‘Based on the value of my money, and based on the value of my time, the best way for me to travel is this way, or that way.’ ” And that is probably the most amazing thing about RideScout: this app helps you save time and money by optimizing your use of both resources and making your own decisions – not based on a niche app’s spotlight on a single transportation mode, but rather by putting you in the center of all the options you have to get from where you are to where you want to go.

You may not think you need to give RideScout a try, but Cummings pointed out that, “The Kennedy School’s students are already living a RideScout lifestyle. They are already walking, biking, bike-sharing with Hubway, taking public transit with the T, using cabs, and using Zipcar.” What makes RideScout special, in other words, is that it will simplify your life.

Every one of those services listed above has its own app, and you probably use several of them every day. But RideScout is the simpler, faster, time-and-money-saving wave of the future. Cummings called his app, “that one platform [which] exists to enable [the traveler] to see all those options in a single place.”

When you open RideScout’s GPS-powered map, you see yourself standing in the center of Boston, surrounded by icons for all the various transport services available to you. Tell the app where you want to go, and it lists your “ride results” including arrival times and cost estimates. From there, you have the power to pick your ride based on the time and cost which feel right to you. In their own words, RideScout is “agnostic about which ride people actually choose. We’re not trying to push one mode of transportation or another. We are just trying to help them find the best ride for their specific circumstances.”

There are also plans to expand RideScout to new markets and to cover more options in existing ones. The founders were happy to report that many as-yet unrepresented transport services have been asking to be added to the next version of RideScout, creating a marketplace to “put their services in front of the people”. The company also says it has been invited by transportation policy experts in New York City and San Francisco to participate in “helping cities become smarter.”

Whether you’re using an Android device, an iPhone or an iPad; there is a version of RideScout for you. They are available right now for free through the Apple App Store and Google Play, where the latest versions enjoy 3.5 stars out of 5 from 146 reviews.