Peer to peer transportation, car-hailing or ridesharing – whatever phrase you use to describe the breed of apps that has revolutionised the way we travel around cities doesn’t ultimately matter, as there’s only one word people really say.
Uber, whether used as a noun or a verb, took seemingly no time at all to enter our common vocabulary, especially when you consider this is an industry that didn’t even exist eight years ago.
Taxi services have existed for thousands of years, with the first horse-drawn for hire carriages dating back to 17th century London, yet there has never been a global force in the industry. Most major players are confined to cities, with the geographical strains of offering a country-wide service often proving too much. Which is why the creation of the industry, and the rise of Uber to market domination in so many key global territories, has been fascinating to watch.
Given Uber’s overwhelming dominance, you’d have to wonder what its competitors have planned. Some, such as Sidecar, have already folded. Others, like Lyft, continue to look to grow and there’s still even new entrants managing to gain major backing - with Apple this week announcing a $1bn investment into China’s Didi Chuxing.
But what about those apps pitting themselves directly against Uber without the luxury of billions of investment dollars? We met with Ario Keshani, founder of Washington D.C. based app Split, to talk tactics and the future of the industry.
"This new industry had emerged, so I spent a lot of time looking at it and asking myself what the evolution would be. What was the next innovation? Where would the next step take us? The one area I kept coming back to was sharing – the sharing of a vehicle with other passengers, fundamentally changing the way people get around," explains Keshani.
Split has a number of key differences that seperate it from the rest of the pack, with the main factor being it is only a ridesharing app – a service that Uber and Lyft have subsequently added to their offering in many cities since Spilt launched in the spring of 2015. Tell the app where you're going and it will automatically connect you with others heading in the same direction, saving everyone money. This, surely, was a source of great annoyance for Keshani – his app’s USP effectively wiped out overnight?
"We started before uberPool and Lyft Line were operating in DC and the interesting thing was that the launch of those two services didn’t impact our growth at all, ironically they actually made it easier for us to explain what we do. One of the biggest challenges at Split has been communicating the concept to people; ridesharing is not traditionally something that Americans and Europeans are familiar with."
Keshani appears confident that there is room on the roads for more than one peer to peer transportation app, but in order to survive and grow Split has had to adopt a different approach to a number of key aspects of the business.
According to Keshani the user experience is the "single biggest differentiator" between Split and its rivals. One example being pick-up and drop-off points, Split makes you walk to a designated positon nearby to get in your ride, rather than having the car come to you. While this at first may seem less convenient it actually saves time, removing a lot of the unnecessary hassle of drivers trying to locate passengers down one-way streets or starting a journey facing the wrong way.
A relentless drive for efficiency
"The more people we can get in the cars, the less cars there are on the road and the more money we save the passengers," explains Keshani. Split has a mission beyond quick, affordable and accessible travel, with the hope being that users will opt the service in part through the values it rides by.
Split aims to offer a more transparent service than its rivals by telling users the price of the journey, estimated pick up time and estimated drop-off time before the journey is booked. If, for example, adding another passenger to the journey would mean that your drop-off time would be missed then the app would override the request. By letting people know as much information as possible about the service before the confirmation stage users can make an informed decision about their ride.
The sustainable aspect of Spilt is clearly something its branding plays heavily on, with the look and feel a big departure from that of its rivals. "Sustainability is one of the key pillars of everthing we do and that hopefully comes out in our brand," notes Keshani. Having a positive impact on the local environment, as well as people’s commutes, is a big part of the Split story.