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Transit app to make users pay for key features

The Montreal-based company says it needs to earn revenue to keep its application feasible for the long term.

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A popular mobile application that provides schedules for buses, métros and trains will be soon charging users for access to some of this information.

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Over the next few weeks, the application Transit will charge users a monthly or annual subscription to access information about schedules at stops and stations not in their immediate vicinity (more than 200 metres away) as well as several hours into the future.

The premium feature is being rolled out gradually. Anyone who downloads the app for the first time won’t be able to access all the features for free, while existing users will have a 14-day grace period as of the day of the last update of the application on their phones.

Transit, a Montreal-based company with 65 employees, is rolling out a subscription model to all the 300 cities that it serves. However, in some of those cities, the local transit agency has stepped in to sponsor the premium features. That means the transit agency has paid to allow riders of its city to continue to use all the features in the application for free. Transit is the official or endorsed application for 75 transit agencies around the world, including in Montreal and roughly half of those agencies have opted to pay for a sponsorship. The Société de transport de Montréal has opted not to do so.

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Subscriptions to the Royale service cost $24.99 for the year and $4.99 on a monthly basis.

Transit spokesperson Stephen Miller said the company is charging the fees in order to remain viable for the long haul, since the application isn’t supported with advertising, unlike Google maps and other applications. While transit agencies provide the company with the real-time information on bus schedules and the location of buses for free, the company brings all that information into an easy-to-use format that also includes the location of Bixi stands and Communauto, and allows users to hail Uber rides, Miller said.

“It’s not free to develop an app and maintain it,” Miller said. “But we wanted to make sure that the core of the app remains free for people who use it.”

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He said much of the information people need to plan basic transit trips will remain free. Trip planning in the present and future remains free, so do schedules and real-time positioning of buses for the closest bus lines. Users who can’t afford to pay the subscription can message the company to let them know of their financial predicament and they will be provided the subscription free of charge.

Miller said while there are some revenue streams available to the company, like taking a percentage of the sales of fares made through the application, it’s not enough to sustain the company.

Speaking for the STM, Philippe Déry said the agency will continue to work with Transit, despite the fact it is now charging users to access some of the the data that STM provides free of charge. Déry said the STM is satisfied that Transit provides adequate information for free. The STM phased out its own mobile application four years ago, saying it cost too much to maintain. Déry said it was not financially feasible for the STM to pay for all Montrealers to use Transit for free. While details of the price were not available, Miller said each agency is charged based on how much money Transit estimates it can earn from charging its riders.

The Chrono app, developed by the Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain, is still available for free.

jmagder@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jasonmagder

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