The Vancouver software startup hopes its platform will encourage better cooperation between different transportation providers, increased access to cost-efficient shared rides, and will see more people opt for collective transportation.
“Spare is building the operating system for the future of mobility.”
Inovia Capital led the funding round with participation from Kensington Capital, Link VC, Ramen VC, Ridge Ventures, TransLink Capital and Japan Airlines (as JAL Innovation Fund) and Nicola Wealth, among others.
The round closed on November 3, and, with the current round, Spare has raised $25 million to date. Spare is also backed by the likes of the Mitsubishi Corporation.
“Spare is building the operating system for the future of mobility,” said Todd Simpson, a partner at Inovia. “Its vision of how public and private transportation providers should be able to collaborate without technological impediments to offer a more positive and equitable shared transportation experience to people everywhere really resonated with us and we’re excited to see them grow.”
Simpson is joining Share’s board, something that Spare CEO Kristoffer Vik Hansen welcomes. Vik Hansen said Simpson brings a lot of experience in helping companies scale, something the start is definitely looking toward as its plans to grow from just over 50 people to double or triple that size by the end of 2022.
Spare’s platform includes data-driven transit planning, analytics dashboards, and a customer relationship management hub to help enable on-demand mobility services.
Spare’s hope is that by making transit operations more efficient, transportation providers can address such mobility challenges in today’s cities as first-and-last mile transportation, and transit deserts.
Vik Hansen noted that Inovia has been “pretty keen” on how to improve efficiency in transportation for some time. Inovia has funded travel app start-up Hopper, for example, as well as bus ticket reseller Busbud. One of the things Inovia wanted to add to its portfolio was a company with a strong thesis around a mobility operating system, which is what Spare offers, according to Vik Hansen.
Vik Hansen said that the pandemic showed that the scheduled, fixed-route transit model isn’t always the answer. He claimed that at the height of the pandemic Spare’s on-demand technology helped transit authorities maintain service as they rebuilt amid cutbacks on fixed routes because of declining ridership.
“People shouldn’t have to choose between convenience, availability and sustainability, “ Vik Hansen said. “By allowing riders to seamlessly transition from an on-demand shuttle to a fixed-route rapid bus to a pooled ride-sharing via one ecosystem that brings together multiple providers on the back-end, they can have all three.”
Spare’s customers number 80 across Canada, the United States, Europe, and Japan. In fact, in 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited Spare and its Japanese investor Mitsubishi Corporation in a speech he gave about Canada’s closer collaboration with the Asian-Pacific country.
Trudeau noted Mitsubishi’s $5.8 million CAD investment in Spare, and that the two companies along with a third partner are testing a multi-year, AI-controlled-on-demand bus transit service in Fukuoka.
“With this collaboration, Spare and Mitsubishi Corporation will be well-positioned for significant growth in the multi-billion dollar market for next-generation, shared mobility services in Japan,” Trudeau said at the time.
Spare offers a few different approaches to transit. For instance, it uses a concept it’s dubbed “commingling,” which enables a transit authority to use excess capacity on its paratransit fleet to launch a microtransit service for the general public.
The Cheyenne Transit Program in Wyoming, the Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Transit Authority near Boston, and Citibus in Lubbock, Texas currently employ Spare’s commingling service.
In Canada and the United States, a few transit authorities make use of Spare’s automated trip brokering and dispatching.
Historically, transit agencies have used third-party operators to deliver transit service through manual dispatching. Spare automates the process in real-time based on supply and demand. The startup claims the approach increases the availability of transit and reduces wait times for riders.
When it comes to improving transit, Spare is not alone. In fact, one of its rivals – although Vik Hansen said they’re actually good friends – is a Montréal-based startup that calls itself Transit. In 2018, Transit raised $17.5 million in Series B funding.
Transit’s solution allows users to navigate public transit with accurate real-time predictions, trip planning, and step-by-step navigation. The app also integrates other transport modes like bike-sharing, scooters, carsharing, and ride-hailing. Transit users can request and pay for an Uber trip directly in the app, book carsharing vehicles from multiple providers, and purchase bike-share passes and unlock bikes in North American bike-share systems.
Spare began in 2015, originally with the idea of operating a transportation system of its own. It launched a volunteer carpooling platform in 2016, but Vik Hansen said the startup needed to focus on one thing, and Space concentrated on the technology. That coincided with people noticing the company’s technology, and asking how they could tap into it for their transportation agencies.
What’s next is “really doubling down on what we’re good at, and continu[ing] to really build this operating system,” Vik Hansen said.
Featured image by Emile Seguin from Unsplash