For the past week, I've been trying to explain to people what exactly is Bubble, the Israeli version of the ridesharing service operated by Via in the US and Europe. What is the difference between Bubble and a sherut shared taxi, people ask me, and how does it differ from a bus, if you have to wait for it at the bus stop? The brief answer is that Bubble is a kind of cross between a bus, taxi and shared taxi.
Bubble is a shared ride ordered from a smartphone app but unlike a taxi, it won't stop outside your apartment but rather will adjust its route to suit your needs, rather than travel the fixed route of a bus or shared taxi.
Ordering it from the smartphone app is just the same as Gett (Get Taxi) but in order to catch Bubble you might have to walk quite a bit from your apartment to a bus stop on the main road. It will take you directly to your destination without having to change vehicles but the journey will include a few stops, as it picks up and drops off other passengers. The price of NIS 15 is relatively cheap but much more expensive than the bus. At this stage, the service is limited to central and north Tel Aviv and many of the suburbs of Ramat Gan and Givatayim.
For me personally, who travels extensively in Tel Aviv by train, this service can be excellent. Last week, I used Bubble several times and here are my initial impressions.
The app, which is based on Via's app, has an attractive and easy to use interface. A brief registration process, then allows you to order a minibus and be informed where and when it will pick you up. The problem is that the pickup point is not very well marked on the map and it is not clear on which side of the street the minibus will stop for you. A more serious problem is the waiting time, which can be as long as 15 minutes, making it just as worthwhile to take the bus.
The journey itself is very pleasant. Most of the minibuses in Bubble's fleet are new and spacious. The service is operated by Dan but the travel experience is completely different from being on a crowded bus. Inside are comfortable seats and the minibuses are equipped with Wifi. I took advantage of my short journey to open up my laptop and do a little work, something that I usually find too difficult to do on a bus.
The drivers are very courteous and the journey was a pleasure. At this very early stage, the minibuses are far from full and no journey I made was with more than three other passengers (the minibus has room for 10 passengers), making journeys faster and more direct. A large screen at the front of the minibus shows you when each passenger will reach his or her destination and adds to the more luxurious atmosphere but the timing is not very accurate. Jams and other delays add long minutes to the journey time. But at least there is no need to find parking near the destination.
Bubble is an interesting and cool service but still in its infancy. There is currently a fleet of 40 minibuses, which is planned to expand to 100, when hopefully availability will be higher and waiting times shorter. If that is the case then Bubble will make a worthwhile alternative to taxis and also allow me personally to leave the car at home and travel by Bubble and then train.
This will ultimately be the litmus test of Bubble's viability - a service, which is being subsidized by the government to the tune of NIS 50 million annually. If it takes cars off the road and transfers drivers to a slightly more expensive form of bus service, it will contribute something towards reducing traffic congestion. But if it merely diverts demand from one form of public transport to another, it won't be very worthwhile.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 28, 2019
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019