The power of road mapping and direction sites like MapQuest and Yahoo! Maps is now being channeled by HopStop, a New York-based start-up providing the same type of complete info for walkers and subway and bus strap holders in major cities. In addition to standard mapping and direction info, the site hosts city guides and enables users to share tips on construction delays, rate various lines and so forth.
The ad-supported site is being financed by IDT Ventures, a VC firm. It launched in January 2005, and has been syndicated on a co-branded basis to The New York Post and AM New York. It now claims 750,000 unique visitors per month 95 percent in New York.
The site has had some agency support for nearby businesses and urbanite brands, and its advertiser roster now includes Wachovia Bank, The New York Times, Volkswagen and Dewers Scotch. Wachovia, for instance, uses the site to promote a $50 metro card to customers opening new accounts at branches next to subway stops. In addition, Amex is using the site to promote its InNewYork imprint.
While HopStop has been designed as a destination site, its information is also being licensed to local companies, such as real estate brokerages, which can use it to provide directions to potential buyers. There are currently five customers paying $25,000 each per year for licensing rights, including Coldwell Banker and Corcoran (a New York real estate powerhouse).
HopStop recently extended to Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Chicago. Soon, it will add Philadelphia, Atlanta, and suburban transit systems in Maryland, New Jersey and Long Island. The site also has international aspirations and is planning launches in London, Paris and three other non-U.S. cities.
To my eyes, the site looks kind of rough, and it isn’t always easy to get acceptable results, especially outside New York. And “subway” directions don’t translate to Washington, D.C., where it is the “Metro.” But the 10-person team is constantly working to improve things.
HopStop Founder Chinedu Echeruo, a former Wall Streeter, says he was inspired to start the site because as an immigrant to the U.S., he found that city transit systems can be indecipherable. The value of online transit info is important to everyone, but people from foreign countries or other cities benefit as much as hardcore locals. Consequently, HopStop is available in nine languages (including Swahili).
While most users go in via desktop, Echeruo says mobile access is essential to the site’s future. Currently, site features are available via BlackBerry, SMS and voice recognition (1-888-2Hopstop).
In addition to HopStop, other transit sites have recently launched. Yell.com, for instance, provides transit info for more than 30,000 train stations in the U.K. Urban Mapping, the provider of neighborhood info for AskCity, and soon Verizon SuperPages and YellowPages.com, is also branching out into transit sites. Many transit systems, like Los Angeles and San Diego, have developed transit info systems of their own.
Ian White, the founder of Urban Mapping, says he is bullish on transit info. But it isn’t as easy as it looks. “Semantics really matter” in doing transit searches, he says. “You’ve got three-four standards for each system; different routing; timetables. Some systems define things in terms of frequency (of trains and buses). Others define in terms of arrival times.
“Taking all this stuff is really, really messy,” said White. “And transit systems don’t have a culture of sharing. And routing is just one component, along with spatial. For instance, where do you get out when you are at West Fourth St.? There are four exits but none lets you get out exactly at West Fourth. We’re working on it.”