Our nation’s capital is morphing into a transit paradise for millennials with an aversion to having a car payment.
This year Bridj, Getaround and Split have all launched in Washington, D.C., adding more ways to move around the city without owning a car. The services are another option for consumers who can already choose from Uber, Lyft, Car2Go, bike lanes and public transportation. The city’s glut of millennials is an attractive audience for start-ups looking to reinvent transportation for the digital age.
Split, which launched in D.C. in late May, is similar to Uber and Lyft, yet is focused on pooling riders together so it can offer better deals. Riding on Split will cost significantly less than using Uber, Lyft or Car2Go, but the tradeoff is you may share the ride with someone else, and you may go a bit out of your way.
Uber and Lyft have offered similar carpooling services in select cities, not including Washington, D.C. Split is betting that its singular focus on shared rides will help it find a niche even as competition looms from bigger companies with millions to burn.
Split says a shared ride may take 30 to 50 percent longer than if you were being driven straight from point A to B.
“It’s all a game of balancing. It’s balancing how much sharing can we generate vs. how much does it impact our customers’ user experience,” said Split CEO Ario Keshani, who has walked D.C.’s streets recently in a banana costume to promote the service. “Ultimately what matters most is that our customers get a great experience.”
While testing the service I found riding Split was more expensive than public transportation, but cheaper than Uber, Lyft or Car2Go. Split’s fare is calculated off the most direct route for your trip, so you don’t pay a penalty if another rider is picked up and takes you out of your way.
Split is betting that it can keep its prices lower than competitors by pooling riders with similar trips together into one car, which makes more efficient use of its vehicles. Right now only about 20 percent of rides on the nascent service are shared. (Customers do not pay more if the ride is solo.) For Split to survive, that number will have to grow. It’s offering free rides to new users to help build a base of customers.
Split aims to smooth out the rough edges of its ride-sharing competitors. The start-up says it will never charge surge price during peak periods, a policy that has bothered many Uber customers. Split is also using predetermined locations to pick up and drop off riders.
A Split customer will likely never get picked up immediately outside their home or office. The start-up has identified thousands of spots around the city where its cars will make pick-ups. Its staff selected locations that won’t hamper the flow of traffic. That means not stopping in bike lanes or in traffic lanes. It chose spots such as alleys, fire hydrants, and no-parking zones, where its cars can briefly pull immediately alongside the curb.
In my experiences I was asked to walk between a quarter block and two blocks from where I requested a ride. This wasn’t bothersome except during one rainstorm. My driver, noticing the nearby lightning bolts, volunteered to drive me all the way home.
Split’s service was initially limited to the heart of Northwest Washington, but Tuesday it expanded to much of H Street in Northeast and the area around Nationals Park. It expects to serve all colleges in the District — adding American and Catholic University — by the start of the fall semester. Petworth is another area it has its eye on.
Keshani says that the number of rides on Split has grown about 25 percent week-over-week since launching.
To catch on in D.C. Split will also likely need more drivers and quicker pick-up times. Currently it takes slightly over eight minutes for a car to arrive after being requested. Split also hasn’t released an Android app yet, but says it’s coming soon.
The start-up’s lead investor is Transdev, the European transportation company, where Keshani worked previously. Much of its underlying technology was developed by Ajelo, a Finnish start-up that Split acquired late last year.