You’re in town visiting Austin for a music festival. It’s midnight and you’re leaving a crowded bar downtown, looking for a ride.
You’re an infrequent user of ridesharing apps, and Uber has been ‘good enough’ when you travel out of town. So you open the Uber app.
The map of your area is blanketed in red. Uber shows a 2.5x surge rate and quotes you $80 for the 25-mile ride back to your friend’s house in Dripping Springs. You’re wondering what other options you have. Then you overhear a conversation on the sidewalk a few feet away from you.
“…running a special promotion tonight. Whatever Uber estimates, we’ll cut it in half. And sorry, we’ve got luxury vehicles only!”
The group of six chuckles and nods, yes they want the ride. The guy you overheard is sharply dressed in bright colors. He says into his phone, “Jamie, request for six now, Jackalope to north Austin.”
A girl in the group says, “I have dibs on the XP!” A collective moan, then one of her friends says, “Umm no, we’ll share it. I’ll link the group when we get in.”
A large black luxury SUV hybrid pulls up seconds later, and they’re off.
The colorfully dressed guy turns to you with a smile. “Need a ride? I’m with Arcade City.”
You reply, “Uh yes, do I need to download an app?”
“Well you don’t have to. But new riders get their first ride 100% free if they download the app — so I recommend it! You can search Arcade City in the app store or I can give you a QR code to scan.”
Minutes later and you’re off. Your driver is Sharon, a college student at the University of Texas. You ask her how she got started with Arcade City.
Sharon says she started driving part-time a few months ago. She got more involved in her driver pod called See Jane Go, a group of female Arcade City drivers who take special care to get women home safely late at night.
She described the healthy competition between driver pods, most of which carve out a particular specialty. Some specialize in service for the handicapped, or for the elderly, or for a particular geography, or for deliveries and other services.
Sharon says a number of pods had been competing to provide quick late-night service from the busy Sixth Street area, so they decided to work together. They formed a joint co-op called the Sixth Street Driver Alliance.
The co-op drivers agreed to allocate 3% of each Alliance ride into one joint pool to pay for the occasional rider getting sick in the backseat, and to compensate the ‘street team’ that promotes Arcade City rides on sidewalks around Sixth Street. It also offsets the free rides that Alliance drivers offer to first-time riders.
You wonder aloud how all of that works logistically. She mentions something about a ‘blockchain’ being used to move the funds around and provide security and transparency, but you didn’t really catch that part.
Sharon tells you she’s signed up three transportation companies to Arcade City: a group of pedicabbers in Austin, a taxi company in Fort Worth, and a livery service in Los Angeles. They connected all their drivers to Arcade City and now get most of their rides through the app.
Between those companies and her other referrals, Sharon earns enough money from referral commission — earning between 1–3% on every ride — that she now just drives for fun because she doesn’t really need the money. She spends most of her ‘working’ time growing her pod and the Sixth Street Driver Alliance.
After Sharon graduates UT, she plans to travel to Asia and launch Arcade City in a completely new city. She’s particularly interested in helping to build out the Arcade City delivery service network.
As her car pulls up to your friend’s house, you insist on paying something. Sharon laughs and says not to worry about it — the Alliance loves offering free rides to first-time riders.
Sharon says if you really want to help out, just spread the word about Arcade City. She tells you where you can find your referral code in the app, and says a few of her regular riders have earned enough referral commission that all of their rides are free.
You thank Sharon profusely and step out of the car.
The next day, you delete your Uber app.