In D.C.'s ever-evolving personal transportation market, a new app is promising cheap rides — cheap shared rides, that is. It's called Split, and it's trying to make an impact in an industry dominated by Uber.
Split, which launched in May, is set up so drivers can pick up and drop off multiple passengers during a single trip. The point is to be more efficient and sustainable than regular taxis or other ride-hailing apps. Split also aims to charge less than the competition for short trips around the city.
So is it working? Moments after I opened the Split app and ordered a ride in downtown Washington, it directed me to walk two blocks. That's where my driver, Norman, was waiting. Normally, I'm content riding alone, but this time I hoped he'd pick up other passengers along the way.
It didn't happen. Split got me home — alone — in about 15 minutes. A ride of two and a half miles cost $4.37, cheaper than a taxi or an Uber, even though nobody shared the trip with me.
Other riders have had similar experiences. Kaegy Pabulos, 26, is like many newcomers to D.C.: He doesn't own a car but has a smartphone. Pabulos is always looking for new ways to get around the city. So far Pabulos has taken about 10 trips using Split — all of them alone.
"To be honest, I don't necessarily have a preference when it comes to sharing a ride with a stranger or with someone else," Pabulos says. "Of course it is an added convenience if you are the only one getting picked up."
Pabulos says his typical fare is $3 or $4 — about as cheap as he can find.
Dan Winston, one of Split's co-founders, says the app's users will have different experiences at different times of the day.
"In our busiest hours, our peak hours, we actually have all shared rides," Winston says. "There are times during rush hour — morning and evening — where people are commuting to work from particular neighborhoods and you are likely to see some of the same faces get into the car."
Since launching 10 weeks ago, Split already has expanded its service area twice and Winston expects to have 50 drivers soon, after having started with about 20.
Sustainable transportation is Winston's goal — ideally, each Split car fills up — but for now he's beating Uber in one respect: price. All rides are from $2 to $10.
Winston says Split's approach has efficiency advantages even if cars' seats aren't full all the time.
"Even if an individual person hasn't had a shared ride, there will be a lot of what we call stacked trips, which are trips where the driver knows who he is going to pick up next, even before he has dropped off his current passenger," Winston says.