At noon today, Citymapper began trialling Smart Ride, a bus-taxi hybrid that the company hopes will change the way Londoners and other city dwellers travel. We hopped on a free ride to experience Citymapper’s new concept first-hand.
Booking a Smart Ride initially feels very much like arranging for an Uber to pick you up. The new feature sits comfortably within the Citymapper app and offers just one more mode of transport to the several that the app already facilitates. Like Uber, you choose where you want to be picked up and dropped off and the app lets you know what time your car will arrive, as well as the make and model of the vehicle.
Despite all this, Smart Ride is by no means ‘just another Uber’. The concept is being pitched as a bus-taxi hybrid, and that’s exactly what it is; in fact, the overall experience is arguably more closely aligned with the former than that of a taxi. The vehicles all move along set routes and pick up other passengers on the way, though crucially, drivers will be able to switch from one route to the next according to demand. However, they offer a far greater level of comfort and luxury than a bus; more, in fact, than most taxis. We jumped into a brand new Mercedes van (Smart Rides are permitted to carry no more than eight passengers), that was kitted out with several different types of chargers to appeal to on-the-go travellers and even came complete with bottles of water that we were free to take away with us.
Prices are currently free while Citymapper trials the service. We understand, however, that the price will be cheaper than a taxi but more expensive than a bus, and ultimately that’s a fair reflection of the experience. A new user mistakenly expecting a more typical taxi service like Uber Pool will inevitably feel some friction when having to walk to and from the pick-up points, but that isn’t what this service is about. Citymapper is framing it as a congestion and pollution solution that offers an upgraded, more comfortable bus ride to users, and through this lens the service worked very well.
The value of the service will of course depend on price and the number of routes available, but on the basis of our journey at lunchtime, everything seems to point towards the new scheme being a real success.