Start-up TransitScreen gets lift from D.C. real estate deal


TransitScreen displays transportation options near JBG’s headquarters in Chevy Chase. (Courtesy TransitScreen)

As more city dwellers turn in the keys to their cars, real estate companies are doing everything they can to promote their proximity to Metro, featuring the stations in advertisements, promotions and social media campaigns.

The developer behind one project, Reston Station, went so far as to distribute both cushy toy Metro cars and greeting cards that, when opened, played the sound of an arriving Silver Line train.

The attraction to transit means a potential boom for TransitScreen, a D.C. start-up firm that develops software displaying real-time transportation options at any given location, typically on flat screens in building lobbies.

This week the company announced its biggest deal with a real estate client yet, an agreement that will have the JBG Cos., Chevy Chase-based owner of 23.6 million square feet of Washington-area real estate, using the service to provide Metro rail and bus travel times, as well as the availability of bike- and car-sharing services, in its buildings across the region.

A JBG spokesman said the firm will begin using the service in 10 buildings but plans eventually to use them in all of its new properties. JBG is developing projects downtown and in neighborhoods such as U Street, Potomac Yard, Arlington, Tysons Corner and elsewhere.

“Given our transit-oriented portfolio, this real-time information will prove invaluable to our residents and office workers,” said Rod Lawrence, a JBG partner, in a statement. “It is a great support in our work to create active and sustainable destinations.”

Founded in 2012, TransitScreen caters to cities with rapidly expanding transportation options, such as Washington, San Francisco and Vancouver.

Its founders initially expected that their product would catch on mostly with local governments, not private building owners. They brought on Gabe Klein, former director of transportation for both the District and Chicago, as a strategic adviser. But they now have nearly a dozen real estate clients.

“We thought we were going to be a service for cities and counties and states. But the clients that have really been saying they want it are from the real estate industry,” said Ryan Croft, a co-founder of TransitScreen.

Exposure in JBG properties, which including bustling properties like L’Enfant Plaza, could dramatically increase awareness of the service. JBG and TransitScreen declined to say how much JBG would pay for the software. Croft said that the cost to clients varies but that it often falls between $5,000 and $10,000, usually through a combination of an initial sign-up fee and monthly payments.

TransitScreen is raising money and growing — it now has eight employees — but there are still competitive hurdles to cross. For one, the data produced on the screens is public information, and a raft of competitors have developed competing applications or Web sites. Indeed, JBG created its own version before turning to TransitScreen.

There is also the possibility that the omnipresence of smart phones may lessen the need for screens on walls in lobbies and hallways. Data provided to TransitScreen by Metro shows that 53 percent of online train and bus arrival information is now being accessed via mobile devices.

But Croft said the increasingly frenzied, distracted lives of young urbanites makes TransitScreen systems that much more valuable.

“That tells us that as much as apps have become ubiquitous, people are in a rush,” he said. “They have a bunch of stuff in their hands and they are busy. People just want to glance, like at an airport display, and figure out if they can stop for coffee or they need to sprint to make the next train.”

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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Jonathan O'Connell · August 13