Ride Sharing Startups Are Revolutionizing Travel One Trip At A Time

photo by © Roman M France 2014. 

At some point during our lives, most of us have been instilled with the idea that sharing is a value we ought to adopt. Luckily for commuters, travellers, and just about any persons on the move, budding transportation startups like Lyft, Via, and Spinister are making sure that the ability to share is always just a few thumb swipes away—and they might be turning your daily commute on its head while they’re at it.

If New York App’s future of urban transportation panel is any indication, peer-to-peer (p2p) sharing models aren’t just for pirated music anymore. The phrase of the night was ride sharing, even despite the presence of transit visionaries like Roadify and Kickmap who emphasize the public sphere.

Ride sharing is far from a new concept, in fact, people have been cognisant of the idea since the WWII era when the American public was encouraged to ration resources—namely fossil fuels. The concept in recent years, however, has reached critical mass. With the explosion of transportation companies like Uber—which is now valued at about $18 billion— it’s safe to say ride sharing has taken on a completely new shape. Unlike its inception, however, ride sharing lately has been punctuated, not by conservationism and global war, but by an increased focus on environmentalism, new technology, economics, and of course, Lyft.

[contextly_sidebar id=”WJu0GLV2gfthzwN1Vp86dTDHnl6ZBtbj”]In the ride sharing arena, Lyft brings brings one of the the biggest names to the table. Operating in over 60 cities nationwide, (New York being a recent and hard-fought addition to that list) they offer a travel experience which is probably quite different from one’s traditional cab ride.

Everything about Lyft, from the drivers to the passengers, is p2p. In the Lyft model, a user, using a smartphone to contact the nearest Lyft registered driver, dials in their location and is scooped by the nearest pink mustache clad vehicle in the area. What makes this experience most assuredly different from your typical New York cab ride is the fact that most Lyft drivers aren’t licensed professionals, but rather, as Lyft puts it, “your friend with a car.” This particular business model has drawn the ire of regulators from some cities—including New York—who have stricter regulatory statutes on their drivers.

As if things weren’t different enough with the Lyft experience, most drivers also operate on a donation system as opposed to a traditional pay wall—a system one shouldn’t try using with their local gypsy cab. If you’re wondering how popular this model could be, TechCrunch reports that as of late 2013, Lyft was seeing its revenue grow by a whopping six percent each week.

Lyft is not alone in their quest for a more personal approach to transportation. Via offers users a similar ride sharing option which is algorithmically calculated to optimize car-pooling. By picking up the greatest number of customers and using the most expedient route Via hopes to encourage car-pooling while simultaneously cutting costs for their customers and the business alike. In a similar ride sharing vein, Spinister offers bicyclists, skiiers, and other action sport aficionados a convenient interface for listing and renting anything from bikes to surfboards.

Of course, p2p platforms, though cost effective and efficient, are not without their skeptics, especially when considering the stereotypical curmudgeons of New York’s daily bustle. Though according to Daniel Ramot, the CEO and co-founder of Via, the resistance to ride sharing exists, not in the day-to-day, but mostly within these antisocial stereotypes.

“In New York there is such a stereotype against people not wanting to do any sort of sharing,” said Ramot, “but we’re finding that’s not really the case. People will exchange restaurant recommendations, maybe they find that they’re meeting their neighbors who they otherwise wouldn’t meet… The feedback has been mostly positive.”

When it comes to p2p platforms, Andrew Batey, Chief Marketing Officer at Spinister, has seen a similar sentiment amongst his users. “I thought for sure money would be the main driver,” he said, “but it has really been about biking and sharing bike culture. For a huge majority of our users, money is a secondary driver.”

In the Uber-dominated world of transportation startups, it’s nothing short of imperative that a new platform offer incentives their competitors can’t. For companies cut from the same cloth as Lyft, Via, and Spinister, this aspect has been a key component of their success. So far, ride sharing startups have given their customers alternatives that are more environmentally friendly, socially inclusive, and according to Ramot, economically sound.

“I think the economics are driving it to some extent,” he said. “I was chatting with a gentleman from one of the big auto-manufacturers in Detroit, and he was telling me what an awful thing it was that so many cars were driving to work to their offices in Detroit and filling up the parking lots. I was thinking ‘wow this is amazing he’s trying to find different ways for employees to share cars.’ I was wondering if he was going to get fired at some point real soon,” he continued half-jokingly.

In the realm of transportation, especially in a New York City market which is dominated by the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), the onrush of ride sharing startups is indicative of not only a demand for financially feasible transportation, but shockingly, even a possible shortage of options.

Through studying New York City taxi data, Ramot and Via founders were able to see just how many Taxi rides start in New York City each minute, a data set which Ramot and his team were surprised to find, was not what they expected.

“I was sure I knew what the results were going to be,” he said “There was going to be a really big peak in the morning, a really big peak in the evening, kind of a trough in the middle of the day, and it was going to go down at night.” As it turns out Ramot and company were completely wrong.

“It’s pretty much flat throughout the day. There’s a peak in the morning which is very small,” he said. “And the time of the day when the fewest Taxi trip start in Manhattan is at 4:30 in the afternoon… I think the demand is just enormous.”

With Uber’s expansion into such markets—namely through UberPool and UberX—Lyft and similar competitors have more than their fair share of work cut out for them. According to a recent report by Slate, Uber is currently growing 10 to 11 times faster than Lyft in terms of revenue.

Despite monstrous competition (which isn’t afraid to resort to dirty tactics) and a potential public aversion to p2p ride sharing and car-pooling platforms, constituents of Lyft, Via, and Spinister remain almost unwaveringly optimistic—even in the face of a potentially deadly p2p platforms predator—autonomous driving.

“I’m not an expert on the subject.” said Lyft Launcher Nic Haggert, “But I think if an autonomous car can still have a pink mustache on it, we’ll be there.”

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James Pero