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Why this startup founder is betting on responsible ridesharing as Houston continues to grow

Houston was Dallas-based Alto's second market to expand into in 2020. Photo courtesy of Alto

Houston is a car dependent city and Houstonians spend approximately 75 hours a year in traffic. Ridesharing is a safer and more comfortable way to connect people and the places they need to travel. As Houston continues to grow — the city added 250 people a day in the last year — transportation options are crucial to connect people to the places they need to go.

What’s an alternative to driving your own vehicle? Ridesharing.

Ridesharing has many benefits, and it’s crucial that rideshare models both deliver a safe and consistent experience to passengers while supporting the needs of the cities in which they operate. In my view, responsible ridesharing has three parts: safety, fleet optimization, and sustainability.

The most obvious benefit is safety. The most important objective rideshare businesses have is to transport passengers from point A to point B; everyone in the vehicle is precious cargo. If you’re out drinking, for example, you can ditch your personal vehicle and call for a ride. Having drivers that are professionally trained and their mission to make sure you arrive at your destination safely is the most important priority.

I founded Alto with the mission to create a safer rideshare experience for passengers and drivers alike. To me, personal safety while riding or driving should be the top priority of a ridesharing company. Safety is at the core of Alto’s business model, and it’s built into everything we do. At the center of our business is our W-2 employee drivers who are background checked and complete a driver safety training program. Other features include in-car surveillance, telematic tracking, and in-app tracking of your Alto’s position and status. These features are key in creating a safer way to travel as well as building rapport with customers.

Responsible rideshare services also need to have purposeful wait times. Calling for an on-demand ride and receiving a two-minute pick up time is not sustainable and not good for cities. It doesn’t make sense for your ride to arrive faster than an ambulance would. Having such short wait times incentivizes putting more cars on the road and increases the number of drivers driving around a small section of the city waiting for the next ride request. More cars on the road lead to road congestion and even slowing down road lanes that are dedicated to public transit. Even extending a wait time for pick up to 10-15 minutes can greatly reduce the number of vehicles needed to serve customers, alter customers’ approach to hailing a ride, and with a little planning, create greater efficiencies for the city, customers, and the business.

Rideshare fleets that have sustainable assets are essential for acting as a responsible industry in cities and demonstrates a business’s positive impact. For many years we’ve been hearing about the great electric vehicle (EV) revolution for personal vehicles. But what about rideshare fleets? I think ridesharing services will continue to grow as a transportation alternative and I believe that the rideshare industry should prioritize electrification.

It’s not enough to put vehicles on the road without trying to make the industry more sustainable and climate conscious. Houston, an energy sector powerhouse, is leading the green energy transition and I think Houstonians, along with riders all over the country, want to see EV rideshare fleets.

My company Alto, for example, has announced its vision to transition our entire fleet to EVs over the next two years. There are few discussions about the EV transition for fleets and I’m proud that Alto is leading the industry in this regard. This EV vision is one example of how a rideshare company can build a better and more accountable industry, and these steps also give Houstonians a more responsible and sustainable transportation solution.

As Houston continues to grow, Houstonians will need transportation alternatives that meet various trip demands and do not overwhelm or harm the city’s transportation capabilities. Safety protocols, optimized fleets, and sustainability are all essential factors needed in a transportation framework to keep up with Houston’s economic and population growth. To get to that dinner reservation, the game at the Toyota Center, or that conference at the Convention Center, Houstonians should have access to a transportation alternative — ridesharing — to get them to their destination responsibly, safely, and sustainably.

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Will Coleman is the CEO of Dallas-based Alto, a luxury rideshare service that currently operates in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington, D.C.

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston founders — these four programs have applications open now. Photo via Getty Images

Editor's note: It's safe to say 2023 has fully kicked off as Houston's startup and innovation ecosystem has switched into second gear. A handful of programs — local and national — have opened applications for accelerators and pitch competitions. Scroll through to find one that applies to your company or a startup you know of. Take careful note of the deadlines since they'll be here before you know it.

Is something missing? Email natalie@innovationmap.com for editorial consideration.

Carbon to Value Initiative

Greentown Labs announced its looking for innovative companies with carbon-related technology. Photo via GreentownLabs.com

Greentown Labs announced that its Carbon to Value (C2V) Initiative has opened applications for its third set of startups.

"Supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the C2V Initiative is a unique partnership among the Urban Future Lab at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, Greentown Labs, and Fraunhofer USA that’s driving the creation of a thriving innovation ecosystem for the commercialization of carbontech—technologies that capture and convert CO₂ into valuable end products or services," reads the news release. "Since the C2V Initiative's inception in 2020, the program has supported 18 groundbreaking carbontech startups—chosen from an exceptional pool of more than 230 applications."

The program is looking for companies with technologies within carbon capture, management, removal, or conversion and between TRL 4 and TRL 7. Selected companies will receive a $10,000 stipend and participate in the six-month program.

Applications are due by the end of the day on March 31. For more information and to apply, click here.

MassChallenge accelerators

MassChallenge has two accelerators open for applications. Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

MassChallenge has two programs with open applications:

MassChallenge US Early Stage Accelerator (Deadline: March 3)

This three-month program is industry agnostic and provides intensive support, guidance, tools, and connectivity to the greater MassChallenge community. Around 200 startups are selected per cohort that range in stage from those currently engaged in customer discovery work to validating a technology or service. For more information and to apply, click here.

MassChallenge HealthTech Accelerator (Deadline: February 6)

The 2023 HealthTech Sprint is an eight-week program intended to work intensely with 20 to 25 startups to accelerate the tools and technologies that could transform healthcare. The HealthTech Sprint program is designed to support mid-stage companies that possess a product/solution ready for scaling. For more information and to apply, click here.

Houston Energy Transition Initiative's Energy Ventures Pitch Competition 

HETI is bringing back its CERAWeek pitch competition. Image via houston.org

The Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative, or HETI, is looking for participants for its Energy Ventures Pitch Competition at CERAWeek this year.

"This pitch competition brings together key members of the energy industry, investors, and startups to showcase the critical innovations and emerging technologies that create value from the world’s transition to low-carbon energy systems," reads the website.

HETI is looking for companies addressing challenges and opportunities in CCUS, hydrogen, energy storage, and the circular economy, are invited to present their well-developed business concepts to a world-class investor community.

Applications close February 9. For more information and to apply, click here.

Rice Business Plan Competition

The annual Rice Business Plan Competition has opened applications for student startups. Photo by Natalie Harms

Calling all student-founded startups — the largest and richest intercollegiate student startup competition, the Rice Business Plan Competition, has applications open. According to Rice, 784 RBPC alumni have raised $4.6 billion in funding and created over 5,500 jobs. This year's event is going to be held May 11 to 13.

The RBPC is open to all students from any university around the world. Teams must include at least one graduate-level student, and every team that is invited to compete in person at Rice University is guaranteed to take home at least one of the more that 60 expected cash prizes. For more information and to apply, click here.

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