The airline industry has changed dramatically in the past 15 years, with most reservations now being processed online. But for other modes of transit—rail, bus and ferry—booking and purchasing are still brick-and-mortar operations. Even in Europe, where train travel is prevalent, online sales account for less than 25 percent of orders, according to an estimate from GoEuro, a Berlin-based startup that offers comparative pricing across all types of transport: air, rail, bus and boat.
GoEuro aims to change that. Since launching in April 2013, the company has brought in $31 million in seed and venture funding in hopes of disrupting the rail and bus industries.
CEO Naren Shaam conceived GoEuro while traveling around Europe in summer 2010 after receiving his MBA from Harvard; he was slated to start a job in New York City that fall. It wasn’t his first time backpacking—he’d enjoyed crisscrossing Southeast Asia several years earlier—but on this trip, as he traversed 14 European countries, he noticed a difference. “Ground transportation in Europe is superior to maybe the entire rest of the world,” he says. “Rail and bus are both very convenient.”
Shaam also realized that despite superb infrastructure, access to transit information was archaic, built on clunky legacy systems and outdated modes of doing business. “Every country is siloed,” he says, and as a traveler he faced numerous questions every day. If you want to get from London to Amsterdam, is it cheaper to take a train or fly? How can one determine the total travel time for a flight, including transport to the airport? Shouldn’t it be possible to plan a trip across networks and know the pricing for the entire route?
Airport codes, which are assigned to even the smallest airstrips, exist for ease and accuracy of travel routing and scheduling. The same isn’t true for train depots, ferry docks or bus terminals. To build a robust database, the GoEuro team painstakingly compiles, labels and catalogs every potential destination. “It’s a really massive market of information, very distributed, and dispersed across modes of travel,” Shaam says.
GoEuro users plug in a destination—from a major city to a town or even a village—and the service, which resembles Hipmunk or Kayak, returns listings for rail, air and bus transit, including schedules and pricing. From there, travelers can select the cheapest mode of transport, the scenic route or, if they’re lucky, both.
GoEuro’s first major contract was with a German railway, which gave the small startup access to its database of stations and schedules. But it’s one thing to sign a national company; it’s another to get that kind of information from humble providers such as a private bus company in Italy that operates just three days per week.
GoEuro, which has grown from five to 90 employees, is now operational in nine countries and has more than 150 rail, bus and boating partners. The company doesn’t offer specific figures but says it serves “millions of consumers.” Growth will continue “as fast as we can sign up rail companies,” Shaam says.
“We work with a large legacy industry—one that’s beautiful and receptive,” he adds. “Maybe it takes an outsider to come in and solve the problem of data.”
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