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Startups Making Olympic Cities Smarter

Grace Phillips Ogilby

Research Manager, 1776

With 10,500 athletes and 7.5 million spectators descending on Rio de Janeiro in less than 30 days, Brazilian transportation planners are nervous.

Ever since athletes got stuck in massive traffic jams during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, host cities have provided detailed transportation plans for the Olympic games.

Despite grumbling from local cabbies over designated Olympic road lanes, the London Olympics were widely hailed as a success and as the first ‘public transport games’ in history, with the majority of attendees using public transportation to get to their destinations.

Rio has focused extensively on upgrading its transportation system before the Olympics. The city spent $2.6 billion on a metro extension serving the Olympic village. A large portion of its $11.4 billion Olympic budget went to transportation, including bus rapid transit lines, and a new light rail tram circuit.

However, even with these measures, Brazil’s transportation system will struggle to move fans and athletes across 33 venues in four districts over the course of the 17 days of Games.

Political, in addition to logistical, pitfalls abound. A metro strike, like the one leading up to the World Cup, would be disastrous to the country’s transportation system.

If Brazilian planners are looking for transportation solutions that can deploy quickly, they should consider passing the torch to some of the following groups of startups:

Ridesharing Startups

Everyone has heard of Uber and Lyft, but these companies aren’t the last word on ridesharing. There are many smaller and scrappier companies looking to take a bit out of Uber and Lyft’s market share.

1776 member Split is an application that connects travelers headed in the same direction. Riders tell Split where they’re going, and Split’s technology instantly connects them with people traveling in the same direction, picking passengers up along the way to their destination. Via runs a similar service in Chicago and New York, and Meru Cabs is taking on incumbents in Mumbai, Delhi and other Indian urban centers.

Bandwagon provides an alternative to the one-person-per-taxi norm at airports and large transportation hubs. Bandwagon allows people in taxi queues to find travelers in the same line going in the same direction. These travelers can then band together and share rides in local, licensed taxis.

And cars aren’t the only transportation mode that ridesharing can be applied to. Jugnoo, a two-year-old, Chandigarh, India-based startup, provides an Uber-like service for auto-rickshaws in India. Baas Bikes, a 1776 member company, allows users to find, unlock and rent nearby bicycles.

All of these startups have one thing in common that could massively help Olympic planners: more people get to their common destinations in less time while decreasing costs and congestion.

Making Public Transit More Accessible

Rio’s newly updated public transit system is only as good as visitors’ abilities to navigate the system effectively. Rio and other Olympic hosts would benefit from technology produced by companies like 1776 member TransitScreen, which provides travelers with Information about their transportation choices at a glance, live and in real-time on strategically placed public screens.

Moovel (formerly known as Ridescout) allows travelers to see all mobility options — including walking, bicycling, transit, ridesharing and more — on a single screen. Moovel also allows travelers to book and pay for rides, including public transit, directly through the application.

Increase Access to WiFi

As is the case with any event with millions of attendees, Brazil’s cellular network will be overloaded during the Olympic games. This is an issue not only for fans wanting to send selfies home, but also for the millions of visitors trying to find their way around a foreign city to restaurants, hotels, venues and transportation.

In recent years, startups have some creative situations to help large groups of people get online. BandwidthX, a Carlsbad, California-based company, has created a real-time WiFi marketplace where WiFi network owners can earn money by renting out access to BandwidthX app subscribers. Another company, Veniam, turns cars, taxis, busses and other moving vehicles into WiFi hotspots.

Between ridesharing and increasing the accessibility of public transit and access to WiFi, Brazil could help smooth the congestion and transportation-related frustration sure to come its way during the Olympics.

However, with 3 million people moving to cities worldwide every week, the need to move more people efficiently is a challenge that extends far beyond the Olympics. As a result, transportation and smart city startups will grow exponentially if they can take advantage of the rapidly growing need for cheap and efficient transportation in urban centers worldwide.

The Olympics make an excellent showcase for transportation startups — particularly if, as some analysts believe, Rio’s transportation plan goes off its new light rails.

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Grace Phillips Ogilby

Research Manager, 1776

As 1776's research analyst, Grace digs deep into 1776's proprietary data sets and pairs them with insights from the 1776 community of startups, investors, mentors, experts, policymakers and institutions. Grace…