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Transportation

Here are six ride-hailing companies in Austin that aren't Uber or Lyft

Raven Hernandez, CEO and co-founder of Earth Rides rideshare app, at Electric Drive, a hub of city-operated fast charging stations for electric vehicles, in downtown Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Raven Hernandez is CEO and co-founder of Earth Rides, a Nashville-based ride-hailing company that relies exclusively on electric vehicles like Teslas and Mustang Mach-Es. Earth Rides began operating in Austin this summer.

Uber and Lyft dominate the rides-on-demand industry, but Austin has emerged as a battleground where lesser-known companies are fighting against the global juggernauts for a slice of the business.

The relatively sudden emergence of new ride-hailing companies in Austin is reminiscent of the period from mid-2016 to mid-2017 when Uber and Lyft stopped operating here. They pulled out after voters approved more stringent regulations for ride-hailing companies that included fingerprint-based background checks.

The exit of Uber and Lyft ushered in a flood of new companies catering to residents newly trained in using apps to get around — firms like Fasten, RideAustin, GetMe and Fare — most of which gradually disappeared after the Texas Legislature rescinded Austin's ride-share ordinance, and Uber and Lyft returned.

But a handful of entrepreneurs still see opportunity in these streets, and they're diving into a cut-throat industry where the two market leaders are willing to lose billions of dollars to grow their businesses.

Here are six of the companies trying to make it selling rides in Austin.

Earth Rides

For those who want to avoid gasoline-powered transportation, Earth Rides offers on-demand service in Teslas, Mustang Mach-Es and other electric vehicles.

Nashville native Raven Hernandez started Earth Rides in her hometown last year before expanding to Austin this summer.

"Transportation is one of the number one polluters in the U.S., and I thought if we could tackle the carbon emissions issue in the transportation equation, we can make our world healthier," she said.

Unlike Uber and Lyft, Earth Rides does not use surge pricing.

Earth Rides had about 30 or 40 drivers operating as of early December and hopes to keep growing as more people buy electric vehicles, growing the pool of potential drivers.

Wridz

Austin-based Wridz charges drivers a monthly subscription fee of about $100. Drivers keep 100% of the money they get from fares, fees and tips. The company has operated in other Texas markets and is getting ready to launch any day in Austin.

Wridz promises drivers will undergo ongoing background checks, drug tests and face-to-face interviews before they can transport riders. Wridz also has a number of technologies to help customers make sure they're getting into the right vehicle.

Wridz doesn't charge surge pricing, believing drivers earn more on its subscription-based platform than they would net with surge pricing on Uber or Lyft.

"I think it's time that the drivers got taken care of and the passenger safety is addressed a little bit better," Wridz CEO Steve Wright said.

SendaRide

For those who need nonemergency medical transportation, SendaRide has about 20 drivers in the Austin-area offering both scheduled rides or on-demand rides with an hour's advance notice.

The company's drivers are recruited from the health care industry or through local organizations like Austin Community College, churches or the AARP.

"Our drivers tend to be older, averaging about 55 years old," SendaRide CEO and co-founder Laura Fleet said. "The biggest difference between SendaRide and other ride-share companies is that our service is always door-to-door, concierge and matched to the rider’s specific needs."

For example, Fleet says, SendaRide will attempt to provide a driver who speaks a specific language, upon request.

The company has been operating in Austin since August 2020.

HopSkipDrive

People under 18 cannot take an Uber or Lyft without an adult, even with a parent's permission. So HopSkipDrive was founded in 2014 by working moms who needed to get their kids around town but didn't have time to drive.

HopSkipDrive launched in Austin last month.

Drivers must have at least five years of caregiving experience (being a parent counts), an in-person meeting with the company, annual vehicle inspections and background checks including with child protective services.

All rides are scheduled in advance.

"We are seeing a great demand in [the Austin-area] and we are currently working with multiple school districts and charter schools," HopSkipDrive Vice President Miriam Ravkin said.

Kidcaboo

Kidcaboo is another child transportation company geared toward meeting the needs of working parents. Kidcaboo was founded in New Jersey and is just now starting operations in Austin.

"Our longterm mission is to empower women, to free women up to grow within their careers," founder and CEO Rebecca Lock said. "There are a lot of people who need one boost, and that one boost is someone to transport their kids so they're not late from work, don't have to leave work."

Driver requirements include at least three years of child care experience, a clean driving record and criminal background check. Kidcaboo conducts in-person interviews and installs dual-facing cameras in vehicles so the company's ride monitors can track driver behavior.

Kidcaboo is ramping up in Austin and hiring "driving nannies" now.

Wingz

Getting people to and from the airport is the primary focus of Wingz, a San Francisco-based company founded in 2011. Riders need to book at least two hours in advance, which allows the company to operate with a smaller pool of drivers.

"So we can be more picky. We really handpick our drivers," Wingz cofounder Christof Baumbach said.

Wingz began operating in Austin in 2016, just as Uber and Lyft were pulling out following the referendum on ride-share regulations.

The company's business took a sudden blow when air travel slowed during the pandemic. But with Austin's airport busier than ever, Wingz is bouncing back.

"Demand is picking back up, so that's exciting for us," Baumbach said.

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Corrected: December 29, 2021 at 9:34 PM CST
A previous version of this story said Wridz charges drivers a $100 annual subscription fee. The fee is monthly.

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