New ride-share apps offer flexible commutes, but at what cost?

SEATTLE — The majority of people who commute to work choose to drive alone. Seventy-six percent of commuters drive alone, and only 9 percent carpool, according to data from the U.S Census Bureau.

In Seattle, local governments and tech startups are investing in new innovations they think address concerns of traffic congestion in the Puget Sound Area.

“You look to the right, you look to the left, everyone’s driving alone,” said David Weisman, a business developer for the startup Scoop, which launched in Seattle in March and has a larger presence in the San Francisco area.

Commuting in Seattle traffic is long, lengthy and frustrating for many commuters.

“I drive from Edmonds every day to work down here,” said Morgan Clark, an Amazon account executive who commutes into Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood daily.

“Without any traffic, it can be 25 to 30 minutes; with some pretty nasty traffic, it can be well over an hour,” said Clark.

On some weekdays, she decides to use the Scoop app and pick up people on her drive in.

“Today it was incredibly fast, I felt like I cut my commute in half, maybe 20-plus minutes,” said Clark. “The benefit definitely is it can cut down on the commute, and also I’m getting paid to drive to work."

Flexible carpooling on commuter terms is what Scoop is hoping to expand on in the Seattle area.

Clark, who started as a driver a few weeks ago, said she's already “made over $250 dollars.”

She signed up as a driver on the Scoop app, which has gained thousands of users in the Seattle area since launching in March.

“Folks can save money, not only on gas and wear-and-tear on the vehicle but parking, too,” said Weisman.

He said carpooling can become the dominate way of commuting because it’s affordable.

On an average commute of 20 miles, “Standard pricing rider pays $6, the driver is reimbursed $5, and Scoop gets $1 fee.”

Scoop partners with the Seattle Department of Transportation and large employers like Amazon who incentivize drivers to use the program as part of corporate ride share.

Weisman said carpooling cuts congestion but flexibility is key.

“The modern commuter doesn’t go to and from work at the same time every day,” said Weisman

The flexible option works for Clark, who travels for work often and has a 4-year-old child. She said she can carpool one way, or both, and choose whether she decides to use Scoop every day or less often.

Scoop users can launch the app the night before, plug in their route and the time they plan to leave the following morning and the app will match riders with the driver. It sends the driver notifications of when and where to pick up commuters and information about the rider.

Drivers can also rate their passengers on the app and 'favorite' them if they wish to be matched together again.

“I think there’s a lot of people still apprehensive about carpooling with people they don’t know,” said Clark.

King County Metro, which runs the largest and longest public commuter van program in the country, understands the hesitation people have with carpooling.

“We know that if someone tries carpooling, they’ll probably find out they like it and they’ll keep doing it," said Metro's Victoria Tobin.

Tobin said carpooling tends to be a more organic process and the numbers aren’t easy to track. She adds that when gas prices go up, more people tend to carpool.

Metro’s popular VanPool and Ride share options require long-term commitments, which Tobin says isn’t for everyone either, so they’re trying out on-demand ride-share options by partnering with iCarpool, another app similar to Scoop.

Amol Brahme, the co-founder of iCarpool, says he’s seeing more people use it.

“We’re certainly seeing a clear demand and usage for it,” said Brahme.

He adds iCarpool is a door-to-door option that reaches a wider customer base than public transit.

“It is a flexible option, it has the reach much more than public transit because it has folks driving up to your location and driving you all the way to your destination,” said Brahme.

ICarpool, like Scoop, lets users plug in routes and matches them with riders.

Scoop currently operates for commuters getting into the South Lake Union area. ICarpool has a wider reach and is more focused in the Redmond area.

Brahme said these flexible carpooling options also help reduce wasted space on the road.

“Each individual commuter who drives to work has about three wasted resources in terms of empty seats in their car,” said Brahme.

He said the app charges 30 cents per mile.

“Uber, for example, (and) Lyft that are app-based, are very expensive to use every day,” said Brahme.

Both services do driving-record checks on people who wish to sign up as drivers but don’t do criminal background checks or additional screening for drivers or riders. These carpool services are geared toward corporate commuters, not for public transit options like Uber and Lyft.

Links: Scoop - https://www.takescoop.com/

Icarpool - http://www.icarpool.com/

King County Metro ride shares - http://metro.kingcounty.gov/tops/van-car/van-car.html