Hundreds of thousands of people are descending upon the nation's capital this weekend for both the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump on Friday and the Women's March on Washington the following day. Amtrak and private bus companies have added extra capacity to accommodate people coming to the city from out of town, but most trains and buses are completely booked.
For those hoping to take part in the historic events, finding available transportation has been a logistical nightmare--but for two startups, the situation has been a lucrative business opportunity.
Boston-based travel startup Wanderu, an Inc. company of the year nominee, lets travelers search for tickets across multiple bus and train operators at once, and takes a small percentage of each fare booked. A company spokesperson says Wanderu has had a 1,450 percent increase in bookings compared with the same weekend last year--more than 2,800 tickets in all, or the equivalent of 55 full buses. Wanderu also stands to benefit from a spike in fares this weekend: Ticket prices (for any mode of travel), which are set by the operators, averaged just under $66, the company says, more than double the normal level.
Chartering a private bus is one remaining option when other lines fill up, but typically only for large groups. Another Boston-based startup, Skedaddle, provides a solution for single travelers and small groups by connecting them with other people who want to book the same route. When the route reaches critical mass, the company charters a bus. Founder and CEO Adam Nestler says every charter bus in the Northeast is booked this weekend. "We're moving 11,000 people," he says. "That's 50 times our biggest day ever in terms of revenue." (The company declined to provide revenue figures.)
Activism beyond the National Mall
Of course out-of-town startups aren't the only companies likely to cash in on the events in Washington. Many local businesses expect to see increased revenue over the weekend, and many of them are pledging to put some of it to good use. More than a hundred D.C. businesses have joined an effort known as All In Service, through which they will donate a portion of their proceeds to 36 local charities.
One company that's participating is Tryst Food Group, which owns six restaurants in the nation's capital. Tryst is collecting donations from customers at all its locations this weekend and says it plans to match 100 percent of the money from the one that receives the highest total. Tryst's donation will go to Mary's Center, which provides health and social services to needy families.
"I happened to run into a couple of the [organizers] at a restaurant in an early stage. I thought it was a great idea and wanted to help out," says Tryst food and beverage director David Fritzler. "We're going to involve our guests themselves, so that they have the opportunity to contribute."
All In Service organizer Sarah Massey says her team of six volunteers has been pleasantly surprised by the response from local businesses. "We started with 15 venues at the end of December," she says. "Three weeks later it got to 124. We are astounded and happily overwhelmed."