By adaptive - July 6th, 2015
Taking taxis is a way of life in New York City, but are “always in a hurry” New Yorkers ready to share cabs to save time and a few bucks? Hans Klis lives in the Big Apple and has the download on whether on-demand carpooling can make it there…
New Yorkers don’t share cabs. They just don’t. That is what any seasoned cab driver will tell you. But does that hold up in the age of market disruptors? Brooklyn based ridesharing start-up Bandwagon is putting this common wisdom to the test.
The company is trying to get traction by easing congestion at a major pain point for New York taxi riders, LaGuardia Airport, to see if impatient travellers are willing to share a cab. A big banner with Bandwagon’s logo stands near the growing line at the cab dispatcher outside of Terminal B.
It’s a sunny Friday afternoon and travellers look fairly relaxed as they are waiting for their turn to get in a cab. That doesn’t mean they would not mind jumping the queue.
That’s where Bandwagon comes in. The app pools customers who share the same destination. Along the line at LaGuardia a Bandwagon employee encourages and helps impatient travelers download and install the app.
In the minimalistic but sharply designed blue and red interface they can punch in their current location, their destination and how big their party is. Bandwagon then searches for a match. Luckily not a precise one; passengers who are going to Times Square don’t have to wait to get matched to someone who also wants to get out in the busiest part of Manhattan. They can just share a cab with someone who’s going to Radio City Music Hall five blocks away.
“The mapping algorithm in the app basically finds complimentary routes but you will never go more than twenty percent out of the way”, Bandwagon’s Strategic Communications & Marketing Director Sarah Hogate Bacon explains on the spot. That deviation cap is measured in distance travelled.
Once passengers get matched, they can immediately leave the queue and enter a special taxi-share priority line. For a three dollar fee a Bandwagon host then helps them into a cab. Not only have users of the app shaved off valuable minutes – which can make a huge difference in a town where rush hour can easily turn into gridlock – they also pay less cab fare. The costs are automatically split between the passengers, with an added 10 percent fee for Bandwagon (except at the airport where there's the aforementioned $3 flat fee). Taxi rides with the app end up being around 60 percent of the normal fare.
After a successful 100-hour pilot at LaGuardia in 2013, the company started a new one-year long pilot program at LaGuardia on May 22. Its services can currently be used at terminals B and D on Thursdays and Fridays from 4 pm to 7 pm and on Sundays between 7 pm to 12 am.
“We’re still in the process of working out what the peak times are to get a long, sustained line,” says Bacon. That becomes apparent as the line at terminal B thins out. The two Bandwagon employees kill the time charging their phones. The startup’s marketing director adds, “In this instance the line is too short and moves too quickly. We wait until there is a critical mass of passengers.” Depending on the available cabs that can be between thirty and seventy passengers.
What sets Bandwagon apart from other ride share services like Uber and Lyft is that it actually works with the New York Taxi Commission and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “The industry has been under pressure from Uber and Lyft and we thought it made a lot of sense for cities and for the environment to build an innovative product that supports the way the cab-industry is currently operating,” Bandwagon CEO David Mahfouda says in a telephone interview.
While Uber and Lyft are feuding with local government, this new ride-sharing app is trying to bring about a more inclusive revolution. Mahfouda asserts, “I think we’re giving the industry and the government the tools to compete with Uber and Lyft. And to make better use of the existing taxi supply.”
Bandwagon taps into something far greater than being the next ride share app. In 2014 a study by mathematicians at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that if taxi riders shared cabs, the amount of yellow cabs could be reduced by forty percent; a spectacularly simple way to unclog New York traffic. Services like Uber and Lyft are adding cars to the congestion of city infrastructure, Mahfouda points out, adding, “Our streets have only so much capacity; there is only so much fuel.” In March the number of Uber cars in New York outnumbered yellow cabs for the first time.
It makes sense for parties like airports and the NYC Taxi Commission to partner up with services like Bandwagon, LaGuardia Airport General Manager Lysa Scully said in a public statement--it helps increase taxi availability for their customers: "Additionally, the Port Authority is committed to reducing its carbon footprint and this is an eco-friendly transportation option in line with our sustainability goals".
It’s not a coincidence that similar services to Bandwagon - like Flywheel, Curb, Gett Taxi, Hailo or AsterRIDE - are popping up in other crowded American cities. According to Bandwagon it has saved 907 pounds of CO2 emissions since the start of its pilot at LaGuardia in May.
But Bandwagon isn’t the ride share app to end all ride share apps just yet, according to Mitch Ratcliffe, senior analyst & digital media strategist at market research firm BIA/Kelsey. He notes, “Bandwagon’s relationship with large convention venues, taxi companies and conference production companies will be their strength and its Achilles’ Heel.”
The need for a physical presence at hubs (e.g. airports) and getting exclusive rights to shuttle passengers at conventions limits revenue. “Bandwagon can play the local card in their marketing, perhaps urging people to ‘save jobs’ or ‘support local jobs’ in the taxi business.” The question is, however, do consumers want to do that?
Ratcliffe says, “The taxi industry is not regarded as progressive and many people have had a bad taxi experience sometime in their lives, which Bandwagon has to overcome to be regarded as a ‘new alternative’ to the Uber or Lyft experience.”
Right now Bandwagon only operates at a small number of airports and occasionally at events like CES and Sustainable Brands 2015. With users numbering in the 10,000 range, a roll out in New York is not yet possible. “We’re going to continue working at hubs because there is critical density of users, where we know we have enough passengers to reliable share rides,” says CEO Mahfouda.
Also the still very much hands-on approach at the terminals at LaGuardia isn’t without its hiccups. As Bandwagon employees usher users to the front of the queue they get into an argument with the cab dispatcher who, despite instructions from supervisors, isn’t willing to let people jump the queue. Luckily Bandwagon’s Bacon is there to smooth over this misunderstanding. “We just needed to get to know each other,” she says and smiles disarmingly. It sums up perfectly where Bandwagon is now.