Citymapper has launched Smart Ride, a hybrid bus and taxi service that will transport customers around London within a fixed network.

Following the company’s successful operation of night bus CM2 – which featured music, USB charging ports and ‘busmojis’ designed to alert commuters when they were approaching their stop – it has obtained a private hire licence from Transport for London (TfL) which allows the firm to offer rides to passengers.

“We believe in the future of shared transportation in cities, there is no way we’re going to solve for congestion and pollution otherwise,” said Omid Ashtari, Citymapper president and head of business.

“But the regulations we see are not stacked in the favour of the bus industry to make sure that works.”

These regulations will only allow Citymapper to operate vehicles carrying eight or fewer passengers, but it is free to operate routes that can change as demand shifts, rather than being restricted to pre-arranged timetables and routes. This flexibility is a key part of the service, which has stops like a bus, but can be booked and seats reserved like a cab.

As part of its CM2 night bus project, Citymapper built buses equipped with a range of smart technology, from tablets for drivers to help them avoid ‘bus bunching’, to an automated system where passengers are anonymously counted on and off the bus so accurate seat availability information can be collected. Passengers could pay using contactless debit and credit cards, in addition to Apple Pay and Android Pay. The company hinted at enabling passengers to pay using the Citymapper app, but ultimately decided against it so ‘the bus can be inclusive to passengers without a smartphone’.

The launch comes following nine months of negotiations between Citymapper and London regulators regarding the specific services private companies are allowed to offer.

“We will be confident in welcoming newcomers but they have to be ready to contribute to our objectives,” said Lilli Matson, strategy director at TfL.