Mass transit site HopStop proves there's room in the directions market for another startup

HopStop, a company that helps you get around via mass transit, has raised an undisclosed round of equity financing from investors including Quigo Technologies co-founder Yaron Galai.

Now, there are already a lot of direction services out there — including MapQuest, Yahoo and on the startup front, a voice recognition company called Dial Directions that lets you request directions over the phone — but HopStop is already rather unique in being transit-focused. There are some local transit sites, like the San Francisco Bay Area’s Transit.511.org. And then, of course, there’s one big tech competitor — a transit service from a little company called Google.

We asked Galai why he thought HopStop is a good investment, and he said this is one area where Google doesn’t have the best solution.

“The Google folks have a passion for cool algorithms, but no passion whatsoever for local transit,” he said.

Google’s algorithms can provide some wacky results, Galai said. HopStop, on the other hand, is much more focused on transit and on human behavior. For example, he compared Google directions with HopStop directions from his home to his office, both in New York. Google’s directions involved ferry, light rail, two trains and a walk through New Jersey. HopStop, on the other hand, directed him to a single subway line.

I haven’t used HopStop much myself, but I see that the directions are also much more detailed, which is important when you’re riding an unfamiliar bus line (see screenshot below).

The site is also a good place for local advertising, Galai said, with past advertisers including The New York Times and Wachovia Bank.

Right now, the startup’s service covers Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and its hometown of New York, and also includes mobile and voice-recognition options. Unfortunately, it doesn’t solve my biggest problem: Some areas just have crummy mass transit. That’s why I’m about to drive, not ride, to VentureBeat’s Redwood City office.

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