By: Joel Epstein
Dollaride — “Ride a dollar van along any route for $2. It’s that simple.”
A child of Brooklyn, once removed, I never miss an opportunity to talk about good things that come out of the Borough of Kings. So as we mourn the passing of RBG, one of Brooklyn’s righteous, let’s talk about the kinda good deal you used to find on the Fulton Mall. In times like this when we can all use some good news, services like Dollaride inspire.
What is Dollaride? It’s a homegrown transportation app that is making life better for those who live in the transit deserts that plague too many U.S. cities. For decades, dollar vans have been an integral part of NYC’s transportation system. In transit-starved parts of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, dollar vans serve customers who don’t have access to public transportation or find the vans more reliable and affordable than irregular train and bus service. Dollaride improves transportation for underserved communities by delivering a cashless solution that helps van drivers grow their business while helping deliver to commuters an expanding network of dollar vans in NYC and beyond.
Dollaride’s business model is to offer competitive pricing, with a fair service fee. The company has three sources of income. Its primary income comes from a 50 cent to one dollar service fee collected from each ride. Secondary sources come from financing new routes through corporate enterprise contracts, and eventually, delivery courier services. These additional revenue streams help Dollaride keep down its consumer prices.
Dollaride is tapping into a national need as nearly every major city in the country is plagued by transit deserts. In the U.S., over 4.5 million people have difficulty accessing transit creating a $4.32 billion market opportunity for Dollaride. Currently focused on the New York City market which has over 120,000 daily passengers, Dollaride forecasts that New York alone presents an $86 million market. By creating new routes to serve the 600,000 New Yorkers living in transit deserts, Dollaride aims to grow the NYC market five fold into a $400 million plus opportunity.
Dollaride has differentiated itself from the competition by focusing on underserved communities. Its fixed-route service is faster than a bus, more efficient than the subway, and cheaper than an Uber or Lyft. Over time, Dollaride hopes to reach drivers and riders in over 52 cities. To accelerate consumer demand in New York and elsewhere, Dollaride plans to create API integrations (which enable interaction between data, applications and devices) with mobility app leaders like Google Maps, Transit App and Moovit to help spread its services.
Dollaride is different from Uber and Lyft in that it works with the existing network of dollar vans that operate in NYC. Dollaride works with high capacity (18+ passengers) vehicles that ply semi-fixed routes. The company mainly serves daily commuters as opposed to one-off trips. Dollaride currently partners with over 500 vans on 27 routes. The vans serve over 100,000 passengers per day for a cost of $2 per ride. Using the Dollaride app, riders can access the routes en route to their destinations.
Given what Dollaride and NYC’s dollar vans are doing for commuters from New York’s transit deserts, Dollaride partnerships with the MTA and New York’s 76 business improvement districts (BIDs) should be a no brainer. In 2020/21, watch for a new route in the Bronx.
A long time ago, back in 2018 before the pandemic and the indifference of an impeached narcissist killed 200,000 American souls, I wrote a post entitled, Vans and Minibuses and Things That Go. The piece came to me during a walk along Flatbush Avenue in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn.
The white minibus stops in the traffic in front of Tafarai Tribe on Flatbush Avenue, the door opens and a burly man sweeps the garbage out of the bus onto the street. “What’s going to happen to that?” I instinctively ask. “Nothing,” he says, as the door swings closed and the bus inches northbound toward Prospect Park.
The vans and minibuses serving mostly West Indian riders that ply Flatbush Avenue have operated for decades if not more, ferrying passengers to downtown Brooklyn. In 1980 during a transit strike these “dollar vans,” known for their Christian slogans and Haitian flags helped thousands of New Yorkers get where the trains and buses weren’t going or weren’t going fast enough. They still do.
2018 and that walk on Flatbush Avenue seem like ages ago. For those who don’t recall, at the time the MTA was struggling to get the state and the federal government to fix the subway and Uber and Lyft were cutting into transit ridership by painting ride hailing services as the answer to our transportation needs. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The MTA is still running on fumes and the ride hailing services are still cannibalizing our transit systems and appealing to the privilege of those of us who can afford an Uber. If you can, but choose not to, more power to you.
Perhaps you are one of the millions of Americans left on their back economically by the pandemic. Or perhaps you just like singing Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney’s Depression era anthem, Brother Can You Spare a Dime.
Back in 2018, I wrote:
“Over $4 shade-grown fair-trade coffee in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Williamsburg, Bushwick and Crown Heights the chatter isn’t about congestion pricing, Cuomo’s MTA and fixing the subway. It’s about Chariot and Ourbus and Via. Is it just that they’ve got apps and the other rides don’t or is there something else at play? What would happen if the hipsters and the rest of us without a bike or a great transit option put down our phones for a few minutes and took a minibus to work instead of contributing to the problem by taking Uber, Lyft or Juno?
Now Juno and Chariot have died like the 200,000 killed by the current occupant of the White House but Uber and Lyft and Via are still taking up precious space on what could be complete streets.
That dollar vans fill a void and offer less costly transit for countless New Yorkers goes without saying. While we have now survived the L train shutdown, the pandemic and this “president” have bestowed a fiercer transit wildfire upon us. So with the MTA contemplating massive service cuts, it is time the City looked to Dollaride, a homegrown transportation solution rather than the latest shiny thing from the ivy tower of Silicon Valley.
Love what you hear? Then download the Dollaride app and start riding. And if that $1,200 stimulus check is still burning a hole in your pocket, become an investor. The Harvard Business Review recently featured Dollaride in an article highlighting how its business model has evolved based on the impact COVID-19 has had on public transportation in NYC.
As co-founder and CEO Su Sanni told me recently, “Because Dollaride is a homegrown community-based tech company, by opening the door to non accredited investors, the money that you invest in Dollaride goes to your community.”
At this difficult time, please help make RBG’s memory a blessing by voting and help New York get back on its feet by availing yourself of Dollaride.
Yours in transit,
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Joel Epstein is a New Yorker and an advocate for public transit, livable cities and public space.