- Travel startup Citymapper is a popular free app that helps people navigate public transport in almost 40 cities around the world.
- The British startup is trying to generate revenue with the launch of the Citymapper Pass, a physical, prepaid travel pass that lets you travel within central London at a discount.
- Customers told Business Insider that the launch of Citymapper Pass hasn’t gone smoothly in London, complaining of poor customer service, shipping delays, and mysterious extra costs.
- Citymapper also appears to have confused the city’s transport regulator and operator by not telling it how the Pass would work.
- The startup told Business Insider it was "excited by the overwhelming interest" in the pass and said early issues were down to teething problems.
- Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
Popular transport startup Citymapper has been plagued with issues around the launch of its first major money-making product, the Citymapper Pass, early adopters have told Business Insider.
Citymapper was founded in 2011 by Azmat Yusuf, a former Google employee. It has raised $50 million in venture capital backing to date and was last valued in excess of £250 million ($326 million).
Citymapper is popular with people thanks to its free app which calculates the most efficient public transport routes in almost 40 cities. The company doesn’t release user numbers and, according to its most recent accounts, it remains unprofitable. The Pass is the startup’s latest stab at making money.
But the rollout of Citymapper Pass, one of the firm’s first big revenue plays, hasn’t gone smoothly.
The Citymapper Pass is a physical prepaid travel pass that gives people discounted weekly travel within central London, referred to as Zones 1 and 2. The basic Pass costs £31, and lets you to travel at any time on public transport within these zones. That’s £4 cheaper than the equivalent Oyster pass from London’s transport operator, Transport for London (TfL), which costs £35.10.
The more expensive Citymapper Pass option costs £39 and includes unlimited use of the city’s bikesharing scheme and £10 off Citymapper’s own cabs.
Over time, that would add up to a substantial saving for the millions of commuters travelling in central London. The Pass opened for pre-orders in late February, and the first batch sold out within a week.
Citymapper drummed up public interest in the Pass through teasers on its app, then with a blitz of press and a blog post on February 20.
Even in-app information is comparatively limited. Would there be hidden charges? What happens if you wanted to cancel or pause the weekly pass? Would-be buyers were mostly left to establish the details from press reports.
Early adopters who ordered a Pass from the Citymapper app in February were told they would receive their physical card by the end of March. They would also need to pay the £31 or £39 upfront, and commit to paying for at least four weeks.
Two customers speaking to Business Insider said they didn’t receive their card until April, despite Citymapper taking their first week’s subscription payment. When the cards did eventually arrive, there were unexplained charges and integration issues.
One user told Business Insider in March: "They have been responding, slowly, but just keep saying that the card will arrive ‘soon.’ They took the first payment very quickly though!’ Her card did arrive in April, a week later than promised and after Citymapper had deducted £31 from her bank account.
That might be attributed to startup teething issues but, she said Citymapper then started charging her additional fees for travelling outside Zone 1 and Zone 2. She said she hadn’t travelled outside of those zones, so there shouldn’t be any charges.
"I have… been charged a small ‘Citymapper Pass Extra’ charge a couple of times on top of the weekly charge, despite not going outside of zones 1-2," she told Business Insider. "I’ve messaged their help team a couple of times to query it and since sending the screenshot of my journeys (which they requested), I’ve had no reply."
Another user, who also spoke to Business Insider on the condition of anonymity, said they too had not travelled outside the designated travel zones, but had been charged an additional £13.60.
The Citymapper app
The second user showed Business Insider screenshots of her conversation with a Citymapper representative, who was unable to explain the extra charges. When the customer services employee asked the user to register her Pass with his online TfL account to help resolve the issues, it didn’t work.
The user told Business Insider: "This really is such a s**t show. A normal oyster [TfL’s standard travelcard] is so much simpler, I don’t know why I even bothered!"
They are not the only people complaining about mysterious fees, poor customer service, and delays.
Citymapper originally boasted that its Pass was flexible, meaning people could pause their subscriptions when they went on holiday.
One user discovered that Citymapper actually charges a £2 fee per week to pause the service, something that is buried in the terms of service but not otherwise immediately apparent. "Why can’t I just pause my sub for free? Why can’t I cancel whenever I want?" one bewildered user tweeted at the company.
Another user wrote: "Concerns re unexplained extra charges on
#citymapperpass no dedicated customer support either. I’ll be cancelling after first month at this rate." Others complained that Citymapper Pass can’t be added to Apple Pay, even though the company told journalists it could.
Not everyone is unhappy. One user, Pawel, told Business Insider he had been using his for several days and it worked fine.
Omid Ashtari, Citymapper’s president and head of business, said shipping delays for the Pass and other niggles were teething problems.
He told Business Insider: "We’ve been excited by the overwhelming interest in Citymapper Pass, and our team has worked hard to ensure everyone who wants one can have one. It’s early days so, initial deliveries have been slower than we’d liked them to be. However, we have redesigned our system so that orders will be processed much faster now.
"I’m aware of cases where things haven’t gone as expected, and our support team is working to address those quickly with those affected."
Emails show Citymapper confusing Transport for London
The launch of the Pass has also left Transport for London (TfL) puzzled. As the official network operator, it sets fare prices and has responsibility for the entire system. Citymapper also relies on the open data provided by TfL for free to run its core app.
According to emails and records obtained by Business Insider under the Freedom of Information Act, Citymapper gave TfL little warning that it was about to try and undercut the operator on ticket prices. Nor did it properly explain how its proposition would work.
The records show that Citymapper’s CEO, Azmat Yusuf, first told TfL about the Pass in a phone call on February 8. This, according to the records, was not a detailed discussion.
When the Pass launched on February 20, TfL began fielding calls from journalists asking how the new offering worked, and particularly how Citymapper could offer a travel pass that was £4 cheaper than the one offered by TfL.
One press officer wrote in an email to Azmat Yusuf: "’Azmat, can you call me urgently please?" and then again: "Azmat, I really need to speak to you now please. We have calls in from journalists asking us urgent questions."
Wired’s Nicole Kobie wrote at the time: "A TfL spokesperson said Citymapper had not previously discussed its subscription model. The spokesperson added that TfL will still be paid the full fare for each journey, with Citymapper footing the bill for the discounted fare charged to customers who use its Pay service."
The records obtained by Business Insider also show that TfL tried to meet with Citymapper after the launch of the Pass to understand how it worked.
The staffer responsible for TfL’s fare systems wrote a week after the launch: "It would be useful to meet with
someone from the Citymapper team in the next few days to understand your new pass proposition in more
detail. This is to help us be clear about any impact on how we support customers."
It is not clear if the meeting happened.
In a statement to Business Insider, a TfL spokesman likened the Pass to a contactless debit or credit card, which many Londoners already use to travel around on buses or the Tube.
He said: "We are aware of Citymapper’s plans to introduce a subscription model, bundling together a number of transport options in London, and welcome products which promote public transport, walking and cycling."
Citymapper’s Omid Ashtari disputed the idea that TfL had not been fully informed about the Pass.
He told Business Insider in a statement: "We both communicated on a high level with TfL and had follow up calls to explain Pass before the launch. As is evident from their public statements they are supportive of Citymapper Pass."
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