A new website will now help people looking to travel across the Northeast plan the quickest, most affordable possible trip by bus and train, even one comprised of different coach carrier routes.
The website, Wanderu, aggregates bus schedules from multiple intercity bus and train operators to help customers find and book intercity travel routes. It aims to be the road transportation equivalent of Kayak.com for air travel. Customers simply type in any address, point of interest or city and the site finds a route for the entire trip.
Wanderu’s Igor Bratnikov, co-founder and chief operating officer, and Polina Raygorodskaya, CEO, are both longtime bus commuters.
Raygorodskaya, who started her first company as a college sophomore, found herself having to travel from offices in Boston and New York.
While the two appreciated the convenience and affordability of bus and train travel, they couldn’t find an easy way to book trips. This was especially baffling to them, being members of the Millennial generation — people in their late teens and early 30s, many of whom are college students and young professionals who prefer buses as a mode of travel, Bratnikov said.
“It bothered us, especially as Millennials, [because] we’re used to having everything on our phones, ready to go,” he added. “I can go on Amazon and buy anything. I can go to Kayak and find any flight. It surprises us that [for] buses, which were our way of getting around the country, there was nothing out there that made it simple.”
Wanderu was inspired in 2011 after a trip Bratnikov and Raygorodskaya took with a group to promote national parks and forests across the country.
“We wanted to show that anybody can get to these parks, and made it a challenge,” Bratnikov recalled. “We did rideshares all across the country. We put a blog together. People reached out to us and offered rides from park to park.”
The trip overall was a success, gaining a lot of publicity and followers. However, from one stop on the trip, in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, located in a town of about 300 people, the group learned that its shared ride to Indianapolis cancelled.
“We spent hours on Google trying to [find] the closest bus. We couldn’t find anything and ended up being frustrated,” Bratnikov said. “We had to rent a car for that segment.”
The two released the first version of Wanderu’s search engine in February 2013. Partnering directly with carriers such as Bolt Bus, Megabus, Greyhound, Peter Pan and Amtrak, Wanderu collects the most up-to-date service prices and availability. After putting routes together, the website sends customers to the intercity bus operator to book the service. That familiarizes customers with the bus company, which gets more future loyal riders, Bratnikov said.
As a safety measure, Wanderu only partners with reputable brands, using the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s rankings and reports and recommendations from its transportation industry connections as criteria. Its advisors include Craig Lentsch, the former CEO and chief operating officer of Greyhound and Coach America.
Currently, Wanderu serves the Northeast, but plans to expand throughout the U.S. region by region, starting with the Southeast.
“We don’t expand into a region until we have about 50% coverage,” Bratnikov explained. “That way the consumer always knows that they are going to find a bus.”
Wanderu is working to bring onboard about 170 new bus companies across the U.S. that don’t have online ticketing. Many have approached the company, asking how to participate if they don’t sell tickets online, Bratnikov said.
“We help them find ways with some of our own and other people’s tools to get them online and able to sell tickets,” he added. The company is also helping more operators make their website mobile friendly.