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Bridj to expand on-demand bus service in area

Bridj founder Matthew George

Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/File

Bridj founder Matthew George

Pop-up bus company Bridj plans to launch full-blown transit service across the urban Boston area on Oct. 1, using data from users and social media to create routes in real time and pick up passengers on the fly.

The company had been testing three routes using fixed pickups in Brookline and Allston, and drop-off locations in Cambridge and the Seaport, running about 15 trips a week with discounted fares of $1 to $3.

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The expanded service will have a few routes with set stops and introduce new flexible routes that will change depending on where its riders are and where they want to go. Bridj collects data from its users, including home and work ZIP codes and cellphone GPS information, and also scours social media sites such as Foursquare, Twitter, and Facebook to gauge travel patterns.

The company crunches all that material in real time to anticipate where routes would be needed.

Matthew George, the 24-year-old Bridj founder, said the bus network will operate with an initial capacity of about 500 riders a day and scale up to 15,000 passengers over time. More than 10,000 people have already signed up for the service.

“This is a transit system that actually matches the demand from its riders,” George said. “That’s what is so exciting about Bridj.”

Passengers on the three test routes with fixed stops — from Coolidge Corner to the Seaport, Coolidge Corner to Kendall Square, and Allston to the Seaport — will soon be given iPads during their rides to select their own drop-off destinations. Between 100 and 150 people ride Bridj buses each morning and many trips sell out, George said.

The company uses smaller buses that carry 13 to 15 passengers, with most offering luxury leather seating, power outlets, and Wi-Fi Internet service. The buses, typically Mercedes or Ford models, are owned and operated by third-party vendors. Fares will range from $1.50 to $10, depending on the length of the trip and time of departure. Passengers order the service and pay for passes online.

Bridj is among a number of new types of transit options, such as Uber, that use technology to provide a modern alternative to traditional systems such as public transit or the taxi cab industry.

But in the regulatory world, many fall into a gray area, which Bridj is trying to get clarified. The company has applied to the City of Boston for a jitney license, which is required for any company that transport passengers to and from specific locations in the city.

At a hearing Monday, District Councilor Timothy McCarthy, chairman of the City Council’s Committee on City, Neighborhood Services, and Veterans Affairs, said he will recommend that the council approve the application for the three test routes soon. But he said Bridj would need additional licenses as it expands service.

And because jitney rules were originally written for services with fixed routes, McCarthy said the city will have to update its regulations to accommodate this dynamic service.

“We as a city are trying to make Boston open for business 24/7,” McCarthy said. “The more options people have to get around, the better.”

McCarthy added that he is eager to see Bridj succeed in Boston and begin picking up passengers in neighborhoods in his district — Hyde Park, Mattapan, and Roslindale — that are underserved by public transit.

While the MBTA has an extensive rail and bus network, many riders make multiple connections to reach their destination.

A 2011 Brookings Institute report found that fewer than one-third of jobs in the Boston metro area could be reached by public transportation within 90 minutes.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the agency does not see Bridj as a rival — or threat. He said Bridj fares are more in line with taxi prices and the vast majority of MBTA riders cannot afford cabs on a regular basis.

One-way bus fares in the city cost $1.60 and subway trips cost $2.10 with a CharlieCard.

The MBTA, Pesaturo said, “is supportive of initiatives that aim to reduce automobile volume on the roads.”

Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @TarynLuna.
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