Dollaride - a mobility company for communities underserved by public transit.

We provide a mass transit service, powered by a thriving network of drivers & small business owners in underserved communities.

Photo of Su Sanni
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Eligibility

  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States

Gender

  • Man

Where are you making a difference?

1. New York: New York City/Manhattan 10013
2. New York: New York City/Manhattan 10018
3. New York: New York City/Brooklyn 11226
4. New York: New York City/Queens 11432
5. New York: New York City/Bronx 10466

(Source: New Yorker. "New York’s Shadow Transit." http://bit.ly/2qrgp

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Development & Prosperity
  • Environment & Sustainability
  • Human Rights & Equality

Date Started

12/13/2016

Organization Type

  • for-profit

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)

Budget

  • $250k - $500k

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

https://www.dollaride.com/

Twitter URL

https://twitter.com/dollaride

Facebook URL

https://facebook.com/dollaride1

LinkedIn URL

https://www.linkedin.com/company/dollaride/

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

In 2016, I had the “Aha” moment when I was contracted by a group of “dollar van” operators (i.e. the small business owners who employ the drivers) to survey their passengers in order to understand how they could improve their private transit service and grow their businesses.
In my research, I found that the prevailing issue inhibiting the growth of the dollar van network was its traditional cash-only system of operations, which keeps the network offline and disconnected from the larger NYC market. This was alarming because the drivers generate over $70M/year in cash, despite the fact that 86% of passengers I surveyed reported they would accept higher fares per ride, in exchange for the convenience of paying digitally (i.e credit cards).

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Serving NYC's outer boroughs for over 30 years, 500+ dollar vans mobilize over 120K daily passengers from communities underserved by public transit. However, because the service is still offline, drivers and operators experience painful systemic issues like theft, poor visibility into their business operations, and no access to bank financing. Without incorporating technology, expanding this fixed-route micro-transit service is nearly impossible.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Dollaride’s solution is to add a digital service layer to the existing “dollar van” network in NYC, bringing the community from the offline world into the online world. Dollaride’s online service includes mobile apps for drivers & passengers, and a free online fleet management platform for Operators.

For drivers, the mobile app will allow them to accept debit/credit cards and deliver a more transparent transit service with ETAs. The app keeps track of all payment transactions and helps drivers identify new territories where there is sufficient consumer demand to warrant a new route.

The app helps passengers see nearby drivers, ETAs, and active routes in real-time from a digital map, as opposed to relying on word-of-mouth & street-hailing to catch a ride; all important features for daily commuters and job seekers.

The fleet management system will finally give Operators the ability to monitor their earnings across all drivers, while adjusting to the growth of passenger demand. Most importantly, our solution digitizes their operations, making it easier for operators to obtain financing and expand their service territory without the risks associated with an all-cash business.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

Winston Williams is a well-known dollar van driver in Brooklyn, who also owns Black Street Van Lines (i.e. he’s also an Operator, employing 20+ drivers). For years, Winston has had his eyes on establishing new routes in East New York, Brooklyn, where recently bus service has been reduced because of city budget cuts. Although Winston’s intuition is 100% right, his business is offline - so he simply cannot afford to risk taking his drivers or himself off their current routes without knowing that the new routes in East NY will have sufficient passenger demand.

Because Dollaride’s app can predict and quantify passenger demand in any neighborhood, Winston can use the app to uncover exactly when it’ll be lucrative to open additional routes in new territories. By de-risking these decisions to expand, Winston can grow his small business by meeting the transit needs of more people in Brooklyn.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

Dollaride's platform supports the needs of local SMBs & commercial drivers, who currently deliver micro-transit service in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, NY. Uncoincidentally, in the low-income areas, are where we have severe transit deserts in which 700K New Yorkers reside.
By empowering the supply-side of this transit network (ie 500+ drivers, 40+ operators) with technology, passengers will spend less of their household income on transportation while benefiting from increased mobility.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • geography
  • immigration status
  • work status
  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • age - elder
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Chariot and VIA are shared SUV & minivan services in NYC serving an affluent market (i.e. urban professionals with corporate jobs). Both companies have modern vehicles from partnerships with Ford and Mercedes Benz respectively, but the cost of a typical fare is $7/ride.

Dollaride serves the working class living in low-income neighborhoods with fares of $2.25/ride (less than subway/MTA). We also give drivers the technology to expand their business as independent entrepreneurs. Whereas Chariot and VIA employ their drivers as W2 employees, resulting in a more expensive service to passengers.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

So far, Dollaride has made a difference by changing the public’s perception of the dollar van community, resulting in the following opportunities:

- Signed up 4 operators, 123 drivers, positioning us to engage 30K+ passengers
-NYC gov’t is considering dollar vans as a resource to the 400K daily riders who’ll be displaced when the popular L subway line shuts down for 15 months for repairs (2019)
-Piloting a custom group insurance policy (min. 100 drivers) with ATIC, potentially cutting driver insurance costs by up to 30%
-Support from State and City policymakers (NY Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Councilman Jumaane Williams)
-Media coverage uncovering the challenges felt by NYC drivers and passengers (NY Times, CUNY TV (video attached))
- Letter of interest from a prominent real estate developer to bring dollar vans to their 3000 unit mixed-income housing complex in East NY, Bklyn.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

5 strategies to scale impact:
 
Promotion: using online content, social media, and grassroots marketing in targeted neighborhoods to build awareness
Acquisition: to onboard drivers, we’ll partner with operators (ie. my 2 uncles), and orgs like the Commuter Van Association of NY
Training: partner with local driving schools to ensure drivers have requisite training and licenses (CDL)
Pipeline Development: helping drivers become small business owners (operators)
Support: continually upgrade the tech platform & supply-chain partners to support transit network growth at scale & across cities.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Franchising, Licensing, Accreditation
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Organizing Conferences
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Open Sourcing
  • Campaigns

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Primary revenue comes from collecting a $0.25 service fee on top of each $2 fare. This business model allows us to keep fares low for passengers without decreasing the take-home pay of drivers. We breakeven at 5K rides/day (Nov ‘18).
Later, we'll sell reports & the research data we collect on the impact of transit deserts to urban planners, local gov't agencies & foundations.
However, we’ll eventually need to raise venture capital and grant funding to scale operations across multiple cities.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Su Sanni, 3x founder - 8+ yrs experience with bus dev, marketing, sales & fundraising.
Chris Coles, CTO, Computer Science - 5+ yrs software engineering at venture-backed startups (Loverly, Simplifeye).
Ai Kurobe, UI/UX - 10+ yrs designing mobile/web products for brands (Infor, Deloitte).
Prof Eric Goldwyn, Ph.D. (NYU) - data science, expertise in decentralized transit networks in urban cities.

With growth, we'll hire community managers, more engineers, and operations & logistics managers.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian, etc)
  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income community
  • Religious minority (non-Christian)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Ashoka page or contact

Organization name

Dollaride

While NYC dollar vans are currently the 20th largest transit system in the US, Dollaride aims to develop these networks in every city.

Program Design Clarity

In a 16-week pilot program, we’ll do:
-Street canvassing and promotion (Su Sanni & Ops team)
-Interview drivers/passengers before & after mobile product use (Ops team & Prof Goldwyn)
-Product training sessions with drivers (Ops team)
-Continuous product updates (Chris Coles & Tech team)
-Measure & analyze usage data to report & predict community impact (Prof. Goldwyn)

560+ pilot hours invested b4 deploying full-service on 7 Bklyn routes.

Approach to financial wellbeing: does your project focus on creating financial wellbeing through innovating on any of the following?

  • entrepreneurship
  • merchant services
  • money transfer
  • payment
  • other

If you marked "Other" in the question above, please specify:

credit-worthiness - Dollaride's financial reporting will make it easier for Operators to obtain financing based on their business income & cash flow.

Innovation type: Please select which of the following types of innovation best characterize your work

  • Product innovation (Introduction of a good or service or improvements made to existing products)
  • Process innovation (execution of a new or considerably improved production or delivery method)
  • Institutional innovation (Creation or changes in organizational structures, the setting up of new types of financial intermediaries, or to changes in the legal and supervisory framework)

If you marked "Other" in the question above, please specify:

By measuring the decrease in household expenditure on transportation, Dollaride will develop micro-transit networks in communities nationwide.

Partnerships in detail: tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

We partnered with the NYU Urban Future Lab and 4 operators to do pilot programs and user testing.

-City Link Corp, City Express*, Black Street Vans & Brooklyn Van Lines

These operators manage 25% of NYC drivers (123) with daily ridership of 30K people. As vice president* and members of the Commuter Van Association of New York (CVANY), they plan to subsequently structure a partnership with us after the initial pilot. CVANY serves a combined ridership of 96K daily passengers (80% of market).

If you won the Unlocking ₵hange Challenge, how would you invest the prize money of $50,000?

Investing in:

Community organizing, city permits, canvassing, labor ($5,000)
Program marketing material, signage ($3,000)
Driver reimbursement as pilot participants ($15,000)
User interviews & research data (x200) ($10,000)
Agile product development, incorporating community feedback ($15,000

Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions has the project received?

A) 1st place award in the Mobility category of 2018 NYU Urban Future Lab Competition (March 2018)
- http://engineering.nyu.edu/press-releases/2018/02/26/nyu-tandon-urban-future-lab-announces-winners-urban-future-competition
- $50K grant

B) 2nd place award in 2018 USPAAC “Startup Pitch Competition” (June 2018)
- $5,000 grant

Attachments (1)

Dollaride_GUST_deck_BK_2018.pdf

View the pitch deck, where we break down the problem, solution, market opportunity, business model, growth strategy, and key differentiators between Dollaride and other ride-sharing services.

4 comments

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Photo of RW Jones

I've always found the dollar van industry fascinating and have frequently bring the model up in discussion with my resident leaders who are challenged with transportation issues. I'm from Brooklyn and Ive lived in Queens. You are on to something pretty major! I hope you win!

Photo of Su Sanni

Thanks Racquel! Dollar vans are so fascinating, right??
I've grown up taking them, having lived in brooklyn and queens just like you. As a passenger, I loved riding them because they are super quick, cheaper than the subway/but and ALWAYS seem to be available. Living in queens, I couldn't have maintained my first job on Wall street, if it wasn't for being able to rely on the dollar vans each morning.

After seeing dollar vans pop up in communities/cities outside of NYC, I knew there was a growing market for this service...hidden in plain sight :)

Over the last couple years, I discovered that what's most fascinating about the vans is the economics between the drivers and operators. These folks actually create tons of jobs and deliver a valuable service in communities where there are serious economic challenges. So I just fell in love with the impact and growth potential that informal transit networks like dollar vans have.

I'm totally committed to this for the long haul, so your comment is definitely encouraging :) Thank you!

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