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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

The Arlington-based mobile app Sandboxx plans to roll out a new chatroom feature for military recruits and their families, in an attempt to increase communication and minimize dropouts.

Sandboxx plans to introduce “Muster” within a month.

The chatroom, which aims to mimic Slack, is for individual military recruiting stations for recruiters and new recruits in the delayed entry program, Sam Meek, app founder and veteran, told ARLnow.

The goal of Muster is to make sure that its users would be “getting that comradery experience in our military journey before basic training,” Meek said. Moreover, this new feature aims to help military recruiters measure the engagement of recruits in those programs.

Sandboxx “Muster” mobile app (courtesy Sandboxx)

The mobile app, profiled by ARLnow in 2016, is a communications app that lets family and friends write and send letters to their loved ones in basic training, as well as allowing military members to connect with other units.

Other recently added features include the digital wallet. That addition allows military members to receive gift cards from relatives and friends for purchases at the military exchange stores during basic training and beyond.

The new feature is an attempt to bring back the fellowship among new recruits that diminished during the pandemic.

Prior to Covid hitting, “a lot of our folks in the recruiting stations would get together once a week or once a month, and they work out and they talk about the ethos of the military journey,” Meek said.

However, once the pandemic arrived, those meetings disappeared. “Sandboxx is bringing back this kind of digital comradery,” he said. The new feature would also allow families and friends of each recruit to form a chat group in the app, where Sandboxx would upload information about the military.

“Not only can [users] read that, but they can communicate it and talk about it directly in their Muster chat,” Meek added.

Keeping new recruits engaged and reducing dropout rates are major goals for Sandboxx.

“One of the things we’re doing is making sure that we can keep really high engagement and we can help those recruiters keep those young 18-year-old and 19-year-old men and women in the delayed entry program and make sure they shift to basic training,” Meek said.

He added that preventing recruits from dropping out is “the biggest uphill battle” military recruiters are facing currently. Recruitment is also another challenge due to the pandemic and high employment rates.

Currently, the U.S. military is not recruiting enough people into most of its service branches. The Department of Defense has only attracted a total rate of 85% recruits across the Army, Navy, the Marine Corps, Air Force and Space Force in fiscal year 2022.

Sandboxx is expected to keep up the new service member’s interest in the military by communicating with each recruit’s family and friends about benefits of joining the military.

“When that individual, if they do get cold feet and they start to get a little nervous about the military journey, the friends and family around them can assure them that this was a fabulous decision,” Meek said.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn.

During the pandemic, Erik Neighbour wanted a fun way to get his friends together where they could stay socially distanced.

So, the Clarendon area resident created a scavenger hunt of sorts, using riddles to explore D.C. monuments. He put the riddles and challenges into an online form so they could use their phones to play.

“They liked it so much that I thought maybe there’s something more here,” he said.

He continued to refine and develop the game into its own app, called  Capital Clues, using coding skills that he first learned creating a financial literacy app. About 100 users downloaded it during a six-month beta testing period and it launched for the public to use two weeks ago, he said.

Users play Capital Clues in D.C. (courtesy Erik Neighbour)

The app provides riddles that guide users from one monument to the next. At each location, there are a series of questions that challenge the user to use observational skills to discover things about the monument. If you don’t get the question, there are hints, but it also can be skipped.

The answer page for each series of questions gives additional insights about what they found. The app has two courses, one from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, and another that goes around the Tidal Basin, from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

When he first created the game for his friends, Neighbour used a third party service, but when he started to actually develop an app for the game, functionality around scoring and timing were important to him.

“People are motivated by certain things in games,” he said. “Some people really like the adventure of finding things, other people like myself are really competitive and I’m really motivated by score and want to know how I did on a leaderboard. And so with this app, we’re able to cater to multiple gaming personas and doing so in a branded experience, which has a seamless user experience.”

During the beta period, he said he was also focused on making sure the questions were challenging but still fun. He said he spent almost every other weekend watching people he recruited to play the game, which also led to an adjustment in how users were timed.

And while Neighbour said there are other competitors for scavenger hunt apps, including one called Let’s Roam, Capital Clues has questions that make you think outside of the box, sort of like an escape room experience, which inspired him.

The logo for Capital Clues (courtesy of Erik Neighbour)

Over the next year, he said he’ll evaluate how the app performs and how people react to it. If there is enough interest, he would consider expanding it, he said.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn.

Two companies that help grocers and shoppers get the best deal have reached a deal of their own.

Canadian artificial intelligence company Fobi is set to acquire Basket, an Arlington-based startup’s grocery pricing app that lets users compare in-store and online prices for items, according to a press release.

Basket, which was developed by Grocery Shopping Labs, provides its data to product manufacturers and retailers so they can understand shopping trends, such as how often shoppers search for products at different stores and what drives purchasing decisions. Fobi, based in Vancouver, provides insights from retail, sports, entertainment and tourism data to its clients, which include large companies across the globe.

“Basket has always been about taking the blindfold off shoppers to help them save money and time, and simultaneously providing shopper insights to some of the top [consumer packaged goods] CPG brands and retailers,” Grocery Shopping Labs CEO Neil Kataria said in the release. “Now, together with Fobi we can significantly grow our audience, delivering more value for shoppers and more value for the CPG brands we work with.”

Tech startup Basket co-founder Andy Ellwood talks at an event marking its move to Arlington in 2016 (file photo)

Basket was started in 2014 in D.C. and moved to Clarendon in 2016. The company raised $12 million in capital and has had hundreds of thousands of users.

Basket allows people to scan barcodes for their favorite products to create smart shopping lists that compares prices for products across various local stores, online shops and delivery companies, as well as the cost of the entire list across all of the stores. Basket’s data combined with Qples by Fobi Grocery Coupon Network app will give users a better experience and optimize cost savings for the brands, the release says.

“Shoppers can simply scan the product barcode and see if there are any coupons available for that product from Qples by Fobi, and if there are, they can be applied automatically at checkout,” according to the release.

The idea for Basket came to Kataria when he was a child, clipping coupons with his family and comparing his grocery list across five stores near him, he previously told ARLnow. As an adult, he realized the amount of money he was wasting by not comparing prices and began to aggregate data generated by shoppers.

The app built a community of shoppers who shared prices from grocery stores across the U.S.

“I’m excited by the opportunity we have together with Fobi to transform the grocery business with pricing visibility and shopper data, but I’m also excited about taking this transformation to other industries next,” Kataria said in the release.

The acquisition of Basket is well-timed, as inflation rises and manufacturers and consumers are even more interested in saving money, Fobi CEO Rob Anson said in the release.

“This deal immediately grows our revenue streams and immediately grows our addressable audience and the amount of shopper data that we have access to,” he said. “Our combined AI & Big Data capabilities will now enable a new era of personalized marketing at scale with unprecedented data analytics, and valuable insights as to campaign performance and measurement for the retail ecosystem.”

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A few restaurants in Arlington are reducing their food waste through a new app called Too Good To Go.

And the restaurateurs say the platform not only helps them recover profits on food that would otherwise get tossed — it also makes their businesses more sustainable and helps them reach new clientele.

Too Good To Go was founded in Denmark 2015 and made its American debut in New York City last year. Over the last 10 months, it has spread to Boston, Philadelphia, the D.C. area, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. On days when participating restaurants have leftovers, chefs assemble “surprise bags” with extra produce or a full meal, which are sold via the app for a fraction of the cost of a regular meal.

City Kabob & Curry House (3007 Columbia Pike) is a new buffet that opened two months ago along Columbia Pike. Adnan Bishir, the assistant manager, said the restaurant’s presence on the app for the last month has gotten new customers in the door.

“We’re getting 10-15 orders a day,” he said. “It’s all from the extra food that we have from the buffet. It’s still really good food — they just make too much of it. This way, it doesn’t go to waste.”

City Kabob sells main dishes for one with rice, protein — such as butter chicken or chickpeas — and veggies for $4 instead of the regular price of $12.

“It’s helping business,” Bishir said. “Customers like it.”

At Pentagon Row, since rebranded Westpost, the Asian fast-casual restaurant Bun’d Up (1201 S. Joyce Street) will sometimes sell bags with fresh food and buns or extra meals made but not distributed due to mix-ups involving delivery apps, co-owner Scott Chung said.

The app helps make up for slow days and is bringing out new customers who are happy to support the environmental cause, he said.

“It’s good for our customers to know we’re trying to be sustainable and helping reduce food waste,” said Chung.

Too Good To Go also repurposes leftover orders. While food pickup and delivery apps have been a lifeline during the pandemic, they come at a cost: no-shows, mixed-up orders or lost drivers, which would mean wasted food, he said.

“We’re expected to eat the costs, on top of the really high commissions for operating on those apps,” Chung said.

Over at South Block, the growing juice and açai bowl chain with multiple Arlington locations, Vice President of Product Adam Kramer said employees use the app to get extra cold-pressed, unpasteurized juice — which has five to 10 pounds of produce per bottle — to people before it expires, he said.

“So far the feedback has been awesome,” Kramer said. “We have people texting our text line asking when we’ll have stuff available on the app.”

“If we do have waste, it’s a cool way to eliminate it,” he added. “It’s also a way for people who may not ordinarily be able to afford South Block to try our product.”

Kramer said the concept is on brand for South Block, which also has a nonprofit cafe that offer fresh produce to people who are food insecure.

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) In just seven weeks, engineering whizzes at Bishop O’Connell High School developed an app that NASA may draw from as it gears up to land the first American woman and next man on the Moon, in preparation for missions to Mars.

This week, NASA recognized them as one of top 10 teams in the 2020 NASA App Development Challenge, which occurred last fall. Students crunched lunar terrain data to create an app that visualizes the South Pole region of the Moon, and NASA will be using aspects of the 10 winning apps for its own program to help astronauts communicate on and navigate the Moon’s surface.

As members of a winning team, DJO students Alex Janninck ’22, Daniel Kippenhan ’22, Elaine Ly ’21 and Claire Toia ’23, as well as Sevginaz Gurleyici ’23, from the Madeira School in McLean will be able to participate in a NASA leadership event in February.

“It takes confidence, drive and a lot of perseverance,” Bishop O’Connell STEM teacher and team advisor Melissa Pore said. “This was incredible to see them achieve this.”

Students developed the app virtually, using “Code With Me” — the Google Docs of collaborative coding — and talked via Discord, a growing communications platform that is popular among gamers and teens. At the height of the challenge, Ly recalls taking notes in class with her right hand and coding with her left.

A NASA official said during a live-stream announcement that the students “displayed great team work by maximizing each team’s strengths in completing both the coding and non-coding aspects of the challenge.”

The odds were stacked against the students: The team barely met the minimum size to participate and the school went fully virtual (due to a COVID-19 outbreak) near the tail-end of the challenge. Team members also did not have app experience, and only Janninck and Ly could code proficiently — so they mentored other members in the coding language Python, Pore said.

“What adult groups would have persevered when they had to learn a new code and train others?” she said.

NASA wants to use this technology “right now,” said Pore, adding that the app can visualize any planet and is suitable for color-blind people.

“Good for NASA to use our smartest levels of students to figure out tricks they wouldn’t have thought of,” she said. “You taught the adults some lessons.”

Ly, who wrote about the news for the school, said she “wouldn’t be half as interested in engineering if it weren’t for [Pore].”

Always learning, Pore became a licensed amateur radio operator to build satellites with her students, and is working with the International Space Station so her students can learn about and access opportunities in aerospace engineering.

A senior headed to George Washington University, Ly nominated Janninck to take charge next year.

“He’s a really good leader and programmer,” she said.

As soon as Janninck finds another interesting challenge, he is willing to try it.

“We do need to get rest from coding and working really hard,” he said.

Especially since the next challenge could be a 24-hour competition to develop a floating settlement to flee to if a meteor strikes Earth.

“No sleep — it sounds wonderful,” Janninck said.

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Morning Notes

B-52 Flyover Attracts Attention — A B-52 Stratofortress flew low and loud over Arlington Thursday morning, likely as part of an Arlington National Cemetery funeral, turning plenty of heads. [Twitter, Twitter]

Va. Coronavirus App Gets Positive Reviews — “I often use this column to warn about the dangers of apps that track you. This time, I’m going to recommend you actually install one. There’s a new kind of app that uses your smartphone’s Bluetooth wireless signals to figure out when you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the novel coronavirus… It’s called Covidwise, and works in the state of Virginia.” [Washington Post]

Pedestrian Committee Chair Slams County — “‘The response that we got back from the County Manager’s Office and senior County leadership was that pedestrians are not a priority,’ said Eric Goldstein, Chair of Arlington County’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PAC), during the group’s first virtual meeting last week.” [Street Justice]

New W&OD Trail Detour Monday — “Upcoming construction activity for the new W&OD Trail Bridge over Lee Highway (Route 29) in Arlington will require a trail detour for about two weeks beginning Monday, August 24.” [Press Release]

ACPD Food Drive Deemed Success — The Arlington County Police Department’s “Fill the Cruiser” food drive collected just over 6,500 pounds of food last week. [Arlington Connection]

D.C. Area Leads in Tech Leasing — “Among the 10 markets reporting the most tech leasing volume in Q2, the year-over-year change in tech leasing activity ranged from +71% (Atlanta) to -74% (San Francisco Bay Area). Washington, D.C., and San Diego were the only other markets with volume increases, while Manhattan also had a large decrease. The five markets with the most leasing volume in Q2 were Washington, D.C., San Francisco Bay Area, Atlanta, Manhattan and Dallas/Ft. Worth.” [CBRE via Potomac Tech Wire]

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Morning Notes

Va. Rolls Out Contact Tracing App — “Governor Ralph Northam today announced the launch of COVIDWISE, an innovative exposure notification app that will alert users if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19.” [Commonwealth of Virginia, DCist]

Rosslyn Metro Closes During Rush Hour — The Rosslyn Metro station closed during yesterday’s evening rush hour, reportedly for a COVID-related cleaning. In what may be a sign of just how low ridership remains, ARLnow did not receive a single tweet or email tip about the closure of one of the system’s busiest stations. [Twitter]

Amazon Still Planning on Pen Place Purchase — “It will be some time before the public knows what Amazon.com Inc. has in store for Pentagon City’s Pen Place property, but we have a pretty good idea of how much it’ll cost the e-commerce and cloud computing giant to acquire what will become the second phase of HQ2. Amazon is expected to buy the 10-acre plot from JBG Smith Properties for just under $150 million sometime next year.” [Washington Business Journal]

Local Hotel Gets Financial Lifeline — “Berkadia announced today the $19 million refinancing secured for Hilton Garden Inn, Crystal City… The global COVID-19 pandemic has particularly affected the hospitality industry, leaving many owners struggling to secure the financing they need.” [Press Release]

Matchbox Files for Bankruptcy — Local restaurant chain Matchbox, which has a location in Pentagon City, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. “Despite the bankruptcy, Matchbox says it’s in talks with its landlords to keep the restaurants open and will even look to open more locations in the future, albeit with smaller footprints.” [Washington Business Journal]

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Rosslyn-based Airside Mobile, a travel app developer founded a decade ago by a pair of former TSA employees, is making national headlines thanks to a bit of timely research.

With the busy holiday travel season getting underway, Airside Mobile released a study, using data from Customs and Border Protection, ranking Thanksgiving passenger wait times for international arrivals at the 25 busiest international airports in the U.S.

The study is on-brand for Airside Mobile and its flagship Mobile Passport app, which “speeds you through U.S. Customs and Border Protection at 30+ airports and cruise ports.” Here’s what company said about the study:

It’s well established that Thanksgiving is one of the busiest air travel periods of the year. Each year, there is lots of commentary around the domestic travel volume, but little attention is given to the international travel volume which also experiences a spike around Thanksgiving. Upon arriving to the U.S. from international destinations, all passengers must pass through U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s clearance process. A passenger’s wait time for this clearance process is highly variable and driven by factors including volume of arriving passengers, number of open CBP processing booths, citizenship status, and the use of Global Entry or Mobile Passport Control. Using CBP’s Airport Wait Time tool, we analyzed 12 days of Thanksgiving 2018’s travel window (11/16/18 – 11/27/18) to predict the busiest days and times of Thanksgiving 2019’s travel window (11/22/19 – 12/2/18) at 25 of the highest volume airports.

Phoenix Sky Harbor, San Jose (Calif.), Baltimore-Washington, Charlotte Douglas and Philadelphia international airports ranked No. 1-5 respectively, while Newark, Miami and San Francisco were at the bottom of the list.

Washington Dulles ranked No. 6, with an average wait for U.S. citizens of 4 minutes. No. 3-ranked Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) reported an average wait of 3 minutes.

So far the wait time study has been reported by CNBC (“Flying this Thanksgiving? Here’s how long you’ll wait at immigration and security”) and USA Today (“Thanksgiving travel: Airports with the shortest and longest customs lines”).

“We’re seeing a small trend during the Thanksgiving window, with a lot of folks taking advantage of the long weekend to go abroad,” Patrick Merfert, Airside’s vice president of marketing, is quoted as saying by CNBC. “We wanted to see what it was going to look like when they arrived back home.”

“You tend to see a lot of smaller airports performing quite well, which is partially due to lower traffic, but you also see some larger airports punching above their weight,” Merfert also said, per the financial news network’s article. “Washington Dulles is ranking quite well despite having moderately high traffic.”

Crunching data and producing interesting infographics or rankings, then pitching the results to journalists, is a well-established way for companies to try to earn free media coverage. While many rankings never go beyond a press release, Airside Mobile was able to capitalize on public interest in holiday travel to pick up coverage from major outlets.

It’s not the only PR win for the company. CNBC also reported in August that Mobile Passport “makes clearing US airport immigration and customs a breeze,” following the release of the company’s premium service, dubbed Mobile Passport plus.

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Morning Notes

VHC to Take More Trauma Patients — “Virginia Hospital Center is preparing to become a trauma center. The Arlington hospital, now amid a major campus expansion, is taking steps to secure Level 2 trauma designation — meaning it could handle more serious cases like head injuries and complex fractures with a devoted response team, led by an in-house general surgeon.” [Washington Business Journal]

APS May Be Rethinking School Swap — “As the potentially contentious redistricting of elementary-school boundaries begins to take shape, Arlington school leaders may be tiptoeing away just slightly from somewhat radical suggestions they offered just weeks ago.” [InsideNova]

AWLA Rescues Kitten Near Pentagon –“We received a call about a car parked near the Pentagon, with a note under the windshield stating that there was a kitten up inside the engine. Using a mix of patience and really yummy cat food, our officers were able to safely remove the kitten and bring her back to the shelter.” [Facebook]

Arlington-Made App Highlighted by Apple — “In honor of Veterans Day, Arlington, Virginia-based Sandboxx, creator of a platform that keeps military families connected, is being featured in Apple’s app store as its App of the Day.” [Technically DC]

Arlington Co. Makes Best-for-Vets List — Ballston-based contractor CACI is on a new list of the Best Companies for Veterans. [Tysons Reporter, Monster]

Sullivan Selected as Caucus Chair — “Virginia Democrats on Saturday chose Eileen Filler-Corn to become speaker of the House of Delegates, a pick that managed to be both historic and conventional for a party that flipped both chambers of the General Assembly in elections Tuesday… Del. Charniele L. Herring (Alexandria) will be the new majority leader, becoming the first woman and the first African American to serve in that post. Del. Richard C. ‘Rip’ Sullivan Jr… will be caucus chairman.” [Washington Post, Blue Virginia]

First Flakes Today? — Some light “conversational” snow may fall today as a cold front passes through. Meanwhile, NBC 4’s Doug Kammerer expects this winter to be colder and snowier than usual. [Capital Weather Gang, NBC 4]

New Korean Chicken Eatery Near Fairlington — “Korean chicken restaurant Choong Man Chicken is coming to… Shoppes at Summit Centre (4700 King Street).” [ALXnow]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Excella, a Courthouse-based technology firm, has been selected as the lead partner in an effort to put together an app to detect alcohol misuse and risk of relapse.

The app, called Beacon, is designed to help medical professionals assess whether a patient is suffering from alcohol use disorder through a “combination of behavioral economics and advanced technology,” according to a press release. The product is still in development, but the goal is to be more effective than traditional methods of detecting alcohol abuse.

The company will utilize the work of Virginia Tech software development students at its Extension Center in Blacksburg. The company will also partner with Roanoke-based BEAM Diagnostics, Inc. to develop the app.

“The nation’s substance use epidemic presents massive challenges to every facet of our society, and we are committed to helping BEAM make the world better through tech innovation,” said Margaret Archer, Excella’s Director of University Programs. “Beacon is exactly the type of solution that our mentor-and-student development teams love to build, and we are happy to be a part of the solution.”

This isn’t Excella’s first foray into apps for a public good: the company previously developed MySpot, which helps homeless youth find nearby shelters and assistance. The press release also notes that the company has worked with government agencies for years to combat opioid fraud and abuse.

Image via Excella/Facebook

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Local governments officials are hoping a new  trip planning app with cash rewards will incentivize more environmentally-friendly commutes.

The app, called incenTrip, uses real-time data to plot quick routes, and uses artificial intelligence to customize those routes for an individual over time. Regional officials said they’re hopeful the app’s built-in reward system will encourage more commuters to help reduce traffic and carbon emissions by ditching their cars.

“The end goal is to provide the most cost effective tool for our agencies, our community and our employees, to incentivize behavioral changes,” said Dr. Lei Zhang, who was in charge of creating the app as director of the University of Maryland’s Transportation Institute.

A pilot version of incepTrip first hit the app stores last year after being by developed by Commuter Connections, a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments initiative, and the Transportation Institute.

The app features a reward system that gives users “points” when they choose a transportation mode that reduces carbon emissions — like the bus or biking — and gives $10 cash awards once users accumulate at least 1,000 points. At 2,000 points users can receive a check for $25, and at 3,500 points they can receive $50.

The incentives are funded through state and federal transportation departments.

VDOT transportation planner Heidi Mitter said the department “has a big emphasis on multi-modal transportation” that pairs with the app’s mission.

“Arlington is dense and has a lot options,” Mitter said of transit in the county, telling ARLnow that hopefully that meant this app would benefit the county’s residents and commuters. 

The app could also help Arlington’s employers, many of which have workers commuting in from other jurisdictions, said Nicholas Ramfos, Director of MWCOG’s Transportation Operations Programs.

“Particularly for employers if they’re having parking issues or other types of recruitment retention issues this is a great way to offer these travel options tho those employees and help reduce some of the congestion that coming into that area,” he said.

When asked, Ramfos added he “absolutely” believed the app could help ease the expected increase in traffic from Amazon’s HQ2, which has started the hiring process for the 25,000 jobs the company promised the county.

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