New, Expanded Services from 321-RIDE to Heat Up Already Hot Ridesharing Market

While Uber and Lyft have been getting a lot of attention lately, following the launch of their services in Cincinnati, they are not the only non-traditional ride sharing services operating locally. The other, of course, is 321-RIDE and has been operating since 2007 primarily as a chauffeur service.

The locally owned and operated company has around 1,100 members presently, but new features, membership options and services are expected to grow that number and make 321-RIDE more competitive in the increasingly congested market.

According to Jon Amster, owner of 321-RIDE, the company’s existing client base is about half corporate and half individuals, and says that they are more of a higher-end service when compared to taxis, Uber and Lyft. He also says that they help those people who are not totally car-free.

“We’re a business that’s set up for a community like Cincinnati and other mid-sized Midwestern cities,” Amster explained. “We don’t have a strong taxi culture here…we have a drive your car to the bar culture, and we understand that.”

The way it works is two workers show up on behalf of 321-RIDE. One of those workers drives the customer home in their car, while the second worker follows them in order to bring both back after dropping off the user.

There are similar such businesses in other markets across North America, including numerous that include only one worker who gets to the customer on a collapsible bike that is stored in the truck until drop-off.

In order to keep up with the changing landscape, 321-RIDE launched a new website, mobile platform and membership options on May 1. Amster says that they are also working with a local developer and database firm to launch a mobile application this fall that will allow for users to geolocate the service and make a reservation in a one- to two-step process.

While the new changes are meant to help continue growth at the company, the University of Cincinnati real estate graduate says that it has not always been smooth sailing.

“We lost $100,000 in the first six months, but eventually paid all of that money back after two years of operation,” Amster said. “We learned from organizations like SCORE and through trial-by-fire, and we’re now a growing business.”

The new model for 321-RIDE allows for customers to sign-up for membership accounts at $8.95 per month, which differs from the previous $200 per year membership option offered. From there, the member’s credit card information is stored so that all ride purchases can be done without an in-car transaction. The average ride fee is around $64, with a minimum charge of $55.

Since 321-RIDE is now a cashless business, it means that gratuity is automatically calculated into the rates.

Amster says that he realizes the more premium service is probably not for everyone, but believes there is a market for ride sharing in Cincinnati at both ends of the spectrum, just as there is a market for steak at both Outback Steakhouse and Morton’s.

As for the new competition from Uber and Lyft, Amster says he welcomes their arrival and believes that they serve different markets.

“I don’t see us as competition,” said Amster. “There are some nights where you’d rather take a cab, but there are some nights where you’d rather have your car home with you.”

There are about 16 to 18 drivers, who operate as contractors, working at any given time for 321-RIDE. Those interested in using the service are able to do so seven nights a week between 9pm and 3am. Daytime and early evening hours are not currently offered, but are being considered as part of expanded operations in the future.

Uber Officials Credit Cincinnati’s Urban Revival, Tech Scene for their Arrival

Four days after our initial report that Uber would soon enter the Cincinnati market, the technology company that has been changing the way people think about the taxi and ridesharing industry officially launched their uberX and uberBLACK services in the Queen City.

With one week remaining on Uber’s initial two weeks of free service, people who wish to use the service are asked to download the company’s smart phone app and then create an account. This is important because this is how users will pay, rate their drivers and access information about where and how many vehicles are available.

The use of this application also allows Uber to track important data about their drivers and their customers. It also helps the company make business decisions.

“Cincinnati has certainly been a market that’s been on our radar for a while,” James Ondrey, Uber’s Ohio General Manager, told UrbanCincy by email. “As a tech company that likes to look at data to drive our decisions, we could see that many people had downloaded Uber or opened the app to look for a ride in the Cincinnati area. So there is definitely pent up demand here.”

Beyond that pent up demand, Ondrey also says that changes to Ohio’s for-hire-sedan code, which allowed for rates to be charged beyond only an hourly rate, opened the door for Uber to work with area limousine operators using rates based on time and distance.

Cincinnati, however, is not Uber’s first market in Ohio. They launched in Columbus in December 2013 and are currently rumored to be eyeing Cleveland for a launch later this year.

“Columbus has been great so far – riders and drivers have been embracing us in drovers and I think the city sees the benefits to having Uber in town,” continued Ondrey, whose position is based out of Columbus. “We expect to see the same here in Cincinnati.”

Ondrey says that the goal is to establish Uber as the most reliable transportation option for Cincinnatians, and he expects that service levels will only improve as they are able to add driver-partners.

“I want you to be able to open your Uber app and always see a car available in less than five minutes,” Ondrey said. “We are in soft launch phase now, so we start with just a handful of initial partners, but you’ll see that grow quickly as we try to keep up with all the demand.”

Not everyone, however, has been thrilled about Uber’s launch.

One UrbanCincy reader explained difficulties with signing up as a potential uberX driver, and was frustrated by what he perceived as a lack of transparency about the need for cars to be no older than eight years. Other readers from the taxi and limousine industries have also expressed frustration.

Bob Michaels, owner of Crown Car & Coach, told UrbanCincy by email that, “As a black car service operator of 11 years in Cincinnati, it is not the taxi industry that is affect, but our core business also.”

While those issues are sorted out, along with a variety of other complaints that have been lobbed at the startup company, Uber officials are moving forward and happy to bring a new transportation choice to Cincinnatians.

“I think transportation choice is ultimately a great thing for consumers,” Ondrey concluded. “We are bringing efficiency to the transportation system in Cincinnati. And again, consumers will ultimately benefit from that competition.”

“You look at all the resurgence that’s happening in Cincy right now – the continued neighborhood development and the increasing desire of folks to return to the urban core – and you can see why it’s a match made in heaven.”

In follow-up correspondence with Lyft officials, the company has said that it has not yet decided officially whether it too will enter the Cincinnati market, but conceded that they are considering it at this time.

Stay tuned to UrbanCincy for further developments on that, and for additional reports as we continue to examine the other aspects on the region’s car-for-hire industry.

Photographs provided by Uber.

Uber and Lyft to Soon Enter Cincinnati Market

Cincinnati’s taxicab industry has long been, and continues to be, a total embarrassment. The vehicles are old, rates are high, availability is limited and service is generally poor. That all may be changing in the near future, however, due to the impending arrival of Uber and Lyft – two new innovative ridesharing companies.

One of the long-standing issues with Cincinnati’s various taxicab companies has been the lack of uniformity or use of technology. There are scores of rag-tag taxicab businesses all across the city and region, with different levels of service and expectations to go along with each.

Forget trying to pay with a credit card, or by any sort of 21st century payment mechanism, in Cincinnati today. But both Uber and Lyft started with technology as a foundational element of their companies.

“In cities around the world, especially the major ones, you have a very stagnant transportation ecosystem,” explains Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. “A lot of times they don’t work. Bringing innovation to this world, which in many cases hasn’t been innovated on in decades, can really bring diversity to a system that hasn’t seen a lot of that.”

Lyft, founded in 2012, allows your friends and neighbors to become your taxi drivers while using their own person vehicles. Meanwhile, Uber, founded in 2009, uses the latest technological advances to allow users to book, reserve, pay and coordinate all elements of their trip. And both companies ensure that clean, new vehicles are the standard.

Lyft was the first to make the announcement that they would soon be entering the Cincinnati market. In February, the company posted ads on Craigslist soliciting new drivers in the Cincinnati area. Uber has since followed suit and posted a position for a Cincinnati Community Manager on their website.

Both of the new tech-savvy, ridesharing companies have been operating out of Columbus, and will also both soon be operating in Cleveland. As a result, Uber’s new community manager position is based out of the state’s centrally located capital.

“So much about cities is how you get around them,” Kalanick concludes. “If you can bring real efficiency, real convenience and real comfort to how you move around that city, you can change the way people live in that city.”

In Cincinnati, a city where the transportation has essentially been unchanged for several generations, the changes and new competition could not come soon enough for some.

“Convenience trumps all. Instead of digging around Google for local taxi numbers, both services come to you,” explained Josh Green from Roadtrippers, who had previously lived and worked in the San Francisco area and frequently used both services.

Green says that he never had a bad experience using either Lyft or Uber, and even envisions the tech-savvy employees at Roadtrippers to utilize it.

“Both services always had friendly drivers thanks to the mutual rating system. I particularly liked Lyft’s drivers because they are literally normal people off the street,” said Green. “I’m super pumped they are coming to Cincinnati because taxis, especially on week nights, are hard to come by.”

One Transit App to Rule Them All

As more people are turning to smartphones to help guide them around cities, app makers are looking into ways to create a transit app that not only provides mass transit directions but also information about the nearest car sharing service and taxi services. This kind of app would serve as a “one-stop shop” for urbanites looking to ditch the expense of owning an automobile and rely entirely on transportation alternatives. More from the Atlantic Cities:

What all of these apps, including taxis, are essentially trying to convince users that they can get to and from work, run errands, meet people for lunch, get to appointments, and do all their other daily tasks without having their own car. RideScout is betting that aggregating all these new transportation options in one place is the best way to make that case to users — which is a win for all transportation disrupters. “If people aren’t pumping $50 into a tank when they fill up, they can transfer that money to taxis, public transportation, and these other options,” Kopser says. “When people make the decision to leave their car at home, we all win — the roads are less clogged, there is less smog, and money is staying in the local economy.”