Don Jenney and a handful of other workers buckle into SHARE’s 15-passenger van. Behind the wheel, driver Brenda Fairbanks checks in her riders. In about 20 minutes they will be clocking in for second shift at a New Albany warehouse.
There’s a lot of layers to this one ride. Jenney doesn’t have to pay for gas to drive himself on the 50-mile round trip. Fairbanks is an employee of SHARE, earning a guaranteed hourly wage. The agency for which the riders work, JSJ Staffing, solves the pain point of reliable transportation for its workers.
Big picture, it’s a glimpse into the future of transportation.
Columbus-based SHARE hit the road with transportation services focused on scheduled, recurring rides. It’s filling the gap between on-demand services like Uber and Lyft, car sharing services like Car2Go, and the reach of public transportation in the city.
Although it’s a competitive environment where every mile is up for grabs, “We are all working to completely change the mobility ecosystem,” says SHARE CEO Ryan McManus.
Starting with its pilot routes in 2017, SHARE is tackling the reverse commute. When many workers live in the suburbs and come into the city for work, it’s much harder to get out of the city and into farther-reaching neighborhoods like New Albany and Groveport where many employment opportunities manifest.
“We’re very proud that we serve the underserved today,” McManus says.
Had you asked him even just a year and a half ago, McManus wouldn’t have said that he would be creating a transportation company with his wife, Hoa, SHARE’s CMO.
“I wanted to be involved, just personal passion and interest, I wanted to be involved in transportation, the automotive industry, and really anything that was touching self-driving cars,” McManus says.
But looking at the landscape, he’d thought the transportation race had been won.
Then came an opportunity from Jaguar Land Rover. Because of a concept investment from the automotive giant, “We were able to spend six months inside of an automaker really understanding the industry…We learned what they are going to do and what they are not going to do.”
Their time at Jaguar Land Rover helped the SHARE team hone in on three customer segments where autonomous vehicles would bring equal access to transportation in a way that’s currently not available: employers, schools and seniors.
The Smart City Grant has brought the phrase “autonomous vehicle” into the vernacular of the average Columbusite. On the Smart Columbus end of the spectrum lies the autonomous shuttle, which will be cruising at a low speed on a closed campus. On the other end of the spectrum is Tesla and its Advanced Driver Assistance System – or ADAS.
“What we’re going to be doing is introducing ADAS systems into our fleet to reduce driver decision making, and ultimately provide a safer transportation service,” McManus says.
For the foreseeable future, though, there’s going to be a driver in the front seat of SHARE’s vehicles. Drivers are the top of the pyramid at the transportation company; they are the face of the brand and bring consistency to a rider’s experience.
SHARE trains its drivers based on the demographics they will be transporting. That could mean encouraging moms-to-be on the way to appointments, or supporting the unique needs of the students of St. Vincent Family Center, another of SHARE’s partners.
SHARE is also working with the Reeb Center and drives to employers like Nationwide, T-Cetra, DHL and others, with routes spanning Dublin, Grove City, Polaris, New Albany and Groveport. The 700 rides completed in 2017 will be dwarfed by the 1,000 rides a day SHARE is on track to reach within two months based on subscribed rides.
Costs, which go down as more riders join in, are covered by the rider or the employer/group organizing the transportation. McManus finds two main motivations for offering SHARE’s services. One one side, employers make the service available to employees to pay for in the absence of other reliable transportation options. On the other, employers are paying for SHARE, motivated to provide benefits that employees want.
SHARE knows its facing a difficult behavior change to get riders used to shared rides. It’s part of the reason they initially focused employers, seniors and schools.
“We wanted to choose riders that we were not asking to give up driving first,” McManus says. “We are giving people transportation that they do not have.”
Feedback from the riders has been positive.
“Riders are averaging 40 trips a month and so that’s a real strong indicator as to how much our riders like the service,” McManus says.
As SHARE starts bringing in more riders and more populations, there’s a host of bigger-picture impacts to be realized. Economics will be the first draw, then rider experience – the opportunity for productivity on a commute, not dealing with the hassles of parking, etc. SHARE will achieve a safety benefit through technology and driver training. And ultimately, there will be an environmental impact, reducing carbon emissions by reducing single-occupancy trips.
About 85 percent of Columbus commuters drive by themselves. A tenant of the Smart City Grant is to reduce that number by 10 percent – something McManus is confident SHARE can make a big impact on.
SHARE operates independently from any of the Smart City initiatives, though. There’s no grant dollars and SHARE is not subsidized, all the payments for rides come from the individuals using it. However, McManus sees how the grant has changed the conversation around transportation in Columbus, bringing more awareness to the business community.
Over the next few months, SHARE is focused on implementing the pilots they have committed to for 2018 across all customer segments. Besides a growing fleet in Columbus, SHARE expects to be in four markets by the end of 2018, dictated by interest from current customers.
“Our growth strategy is going to be going with our customers who are multi-state,” McManus says.
For more information, visit ridewithshare.com.