2023 40 Under 40: Jonny Simkin

Aug. 22, 2023
Jonny Simkin, CEO, Swiftly, Inc.

One word to describe yourself: Curious

Alma Mater: Harvey Mudd College

Fast fact about yourself: I was once ranked No. 2 in California for table tennis (boys under 17)

What’s your best experience on transit and what made it memorable?

Taking transit in Paris. Some of the first investors in Swiftly were based in Paris and they were interested in supporting the future of public transit through modern technologies. I frequently visited them in person and experiencing the density and frequency of transit in Paris, along with how easy it was to navigate for a tourist who didn't speak French blew my mind. While this type of density and frequency is hard to replicate in most cities, I do believe most cities can still provide amazing rider experiences purely by rethinking the data they produce and share with riders, along with where and how they share it. This is something that I often think about and is a challenge that I’m excited to solve.

Jonny Simkin is co-founder and CEO of Swiftly, Inc., a transit data platform for agencies to share real-time passenger information, manage day-to-day operations and improve service performance. Agency colleagues say Simkin's passion, commitment and boundless energy have been instrumental in enhancing the efficiency and rider experience of transit agencies across the globe. Swiftly has partnered with more than 145 transit agencies of all sizes, in more than eight countries, to help improve the rider experience for nearly 2 billion annual transit trips.

Simkin helped secure more than $27 million in funding and fostered the growth of a dynamic team of more than 75 dedicated professionals. Swiftly's commitment to its employee’ growth and its alignment with the public sector’s ethos are exemplified by team members transitioning to public sector agencies, solidifying Simkin's role in shaping the future of the transit workforce.

One example of Swiftly’s impact on the industry and Simkin’s collaborative mind-set is the partnership developed with Miami-Dade County, where the company’s more accurate predictive arrival times at stops contributed to a 41 percent reduction in instances where passengers missed buses. The county estimates these advancements enhance the transit experience for approximately 8 million annual trips, catering to a wide range of passengers, including those without smartphones through Swiftly's text-to-ETA solution. Furthermore, Swiftly's data aids are assisting Miami-Dade County in the design of more accurate and reliable schedules and to inform the county on where capital investments should be made to maximize its capital budget.

Beyond Swiftly's operational realm, Simkin has been a speaker at prominent industry conferences and panels, including APTA events, CoMotion LA and Miami, Rail~Volution and GIS in Transit, among others. Simkin's thought leadership and contributions have left an indelible mark on the discourse surrounding transit technology and innovation.

One of the more remarkable aspects of Simkin's journey is his unconventional educational background, which is not related to transit, but which sets an inspiring precedent for aspiring transit professionals. His success underscores the notion it is not too late to transition to a career in transit and make a significant positive impact.

Is there a specific experience that led you to where you are today?

When I moved to San Francisco in 2012, I sold my car and, for the first time in my life, I started taking public transit to get from point A to point B. I quickly learned how valuable public transit is for mobility, the environment, social equity and even the economy. While I fell in love with it as a mode of travel, I noticed it was hard to rely on at times – buses often didn't arrive exactly when they were scheduled to and, if I relied on real-time information, it was often inaccurate creating frustration with the service. These experiences led me to create Swiftly – to rethink how accurate data and modern technologies can dramatically improve the rider experience, service reliability and to ultimately empower transit agencies to deliver amazing experiences for their riders.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I absolutely love seeing the impact of my work. I'm so fortunate to have had the pleasure of working with more than 145 transit agencies to improve the rider experience for nearly 2 billion annual transit trips. Seeing happy riders and hearing from staff about how Swiftly has helped empower them to better perform their jobs is inspiring. There's nothing like seeing and experiencing the impact of your work firsthand and knowing that it truly is making the world a better place.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Challenging the status quo. The world around us is evolving faster than it ever has, and in the transit industry, we have to adapt too. The most challenging (and fun) problems to solve involve taking age-old processes and figuring out how to drive innovation and change while still retaining familiarity for individuals to adopt those changes.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

Hands down, creating Swiftly (with two amazing co-founders). As a team, we've been able to positively impact billions of transit trips in nine countries around the world since our founding and our data platform has empowered more than 10,000 transit agency staff members to move effectively perform their important jobs. Seeing and feeling this impact is something I'm immensely proud of and it's why I get excited to come to work every day.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

Ask questions. Challenge the status quo. Do the hard things. It doesn't matter what field you're in or how "good" you think your current way of doing things is. It can always be better. Challenge yourself and those around you to always improve. You might be surprised at how much you accomplish simply by always striving for better.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.