In the modern city, bus routes are vital for moving people around. The new online tool Remix (previously Transitmix) simplifies how these networks are created. At SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, we met Tiffany Chu and Ainsley Wagoner, the minds behind Remix.

Public transport is at the core of how cities function, yet many planning methods have remained unchanged for decades. That’s why Remix, an online transport planning tool, has made such a stir.

Finally replacing their felt markers and paper maps with digital technology, planners now can not only see the cost of their proposals immediately, but also receive information on land use and population as they sketch out their routes.

At the SXSW Interactive conference, Remix nventors Tiffany Chu and Ainsley Wagoner tell smart magazine how they came up with this handy tool and which cities are getting in on the scheme early.

smart magazine: Why did you launch Remix?

Ainsley Wagoner: Right now, there is a gap between the way cities are planned and the new technology that is out there.

Tiffany Chu: There is an incredible opportunity to help cities and governments visualize what is possible with regards to urban mobility and to be able to change and iterate designs faster than before.

smart magazine: Tell us more about Remix …

Ainsley Wagoner: We are working on a prototype tool that helps citizens, city officials, and transit planners to sketch out routes in cities using web technology. You get rapid feedback on how much things cost and which communities are affected in real time. As a result, governments and cities can make better and faster decisions based on real data.

“To design better cities, it is important to start with better transit.”
Ainsley Wagoner

smart magazine: So, if I was a planner, why would I try Remix?

Tiffany Chu: Right now, you are probably using a combination of paper maps, markers and Excel spreadsheets to plan out routes. If we gave you access to Remix, you would be able to sketch out something in just four hours that would normally take you 24.

smart magazine: What makes public transport so vital?

Ainsley Wagoner: Transportation is the lifeblood of any city. It is people’s freedom, it’s how they get around, it’s how cities grow. To design better cities, it is important to start with better transit.

Tiffany Chu: I think one thing we are both interested in is bringing people into the design process more. That is so important. Whether it’s the layout of sidewalks, transportation, or buildings, it is vital to get immediate feedback from people instead of waiting until a design is used and then change it later.

smart magazine transitmix
“To design better cities, it is important to start with better transit.”
Photo: Remix

smart magazine: You two are urbanists. But how do you define this term?

Tiffany Chu: Being an urbanist is about helping your city grow in a direction you really believe in.

Ainsley Wagoner: It means to have a love for cities, thinking about how the city looks in the future. Thinking not just for myself but how the communities around me are shaped by the form of the city; whether that means roads or on-demand car sharing.

smart magazine: Both of you are trained architects, yet you went into technology. Why?

Ainsley Wagoner: Architecture exposes you to a set of skills, but you rarely consider the user experience. We both gravitated to a side of design that really allows us to factor that into what we are doing.

“Being an urbanist is about helping your city grow in a direction you really believe in.”
Tiffany Chu

smart magazine: Where does the tech side come from?

Ainsley Wagoner: We came out of this non-profit organization called Code for America. Last year, we were fellows there and Remix emerged as a side project – we wanted to sketch outlines and suggest bus routes for the city of San Francisco.

Tiffany Chu: But when we launched it quietly on the internet about seven months ago, we were completely overwhelmed the next day – we received maps from all over the world! Transit planners came out of the woodwork to design routes for their neighborhoods and cities. They sent us letters saying, “I was waiting for it all my life, I love you.”

smart magazine: Where is Remix being used?

Ainsley Wagoner: In Auckland, Cairo, Manila, and cities all over the US and Canada. The most innovative places in transit planning are reaching out to us first. We had a meeting with the city of Austin. They are really excited about the tool.

smart magazine transitmix
“Being an urbanist is about helping your city grow in a direction you really believe in.”

smart magazine: Austin, the hipster capital of America…

Ainsley Wagoner: Austin is fascinating. There is so much growth. New folks are moving in for jobs, for work, for technology, for media. But it’s still very much a car-dominated city. Actually, their plans for a light rail did not pass because a lot of folks didn’t want their tax dollars going to something they might not experience themselves for many, many years.

Tiffany Chu: It’s a bit of a challenge to convince people that investing in transportation infrastructure for the future helps cities in a way that is bigger than they are.

Watch our video “One fine day in Austin around SXSW” featuring Remix inventors Ainsley Wagoner and Tiffany Chu, Gabe Blanchet, CEO and co-founder of Grove Labs, and Igor Siddiqui of isssstudio.

All the images, incl. the header image: Daniel Brückner