Wanderu Is Like Kayak.com for Bus and Train Tickets

The Boston-based startup launched in the Northeast earlier this week.

For years, Kayak.com has been a godsend for travelers. The New England-based site’s fancy algorithms made the process of finding a flight, hotel, or rental car significantly less maddening, allowing users to search for the cheapest, shortest, and least arduous path from point A to B. But for all its dominance of the air, Kayak always fell short when it came to finding ground transportation. Sure it’s great for jet-setters, but what about those of us who have to occasionally take the bus?

The new site Wanderu, which officially launched this week and is now serving the Northeast, aims to be that connective tissue. The Boston-based startup spun out of MassChallenge and PayPal Boston’s Incubator, and is funded in part by Orbitz chair Jeff Clarke and Craig Lentzsch, a former CEO of Greyhound. The site won the Innovative Web Technologies prize at the 2013 SXSW Interactive Accelerator in March and is already getting a fair share of buzz. But for tens of thousands of college students descending on Boston this weekend—whose parents won’t drop them off at their dorms before finding out when they’ll be making their way back home—it’s an easy way to get mom or dad off your back.

The site’s functions will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s used Kayak. Fill in your travel date, starting point, and destination, and Wanderu will aggregate the available schedules and kick back a list of bus or train routes that you can sort by departure and arrival times, price, or duration. Each listing also has a small key that shows if a bus or train offers amenities like Wifi, extra leg room, outlets for electronic devices, or a loyalty reward program. The site’s maps show exactly where the bus stop is located (which can be confusing if you’ve ever been looking for a bus near New York’s Penn Station), and will give you the directions that get you the rest of the way to your final destination.

A few years ago, the now-shuttered site BusJunction attempted to do what Wanderu is tackling. And other sites that have attempted to aggregate bus and train schedules all have to wrangle with the fact that most bus companies don’t make their APIs available to the public. According to Wanderu’s cofounder and CEO Polina Raygorodskaya, this meant she and her team had to build their own proprietary algorithm, one that they’ve been working on since October 2011. Here’s hoping that their time and patience pays off. Now if they can just find a way to make sure we can avoid the BoltBus where hungover college kids decide its OK to light a bong … then again, that might be just too much to wish for.