Empower founder and CEO Joshua Sear is the kind of ride-share passenger who likes to talk to his drivers.
It was through those casual conversations that he came up with an idea in 2018 for an app that would offer a viable alternative to the country’s top ride-hailing services — Uber and Lyft — by letting drivers keep all the money they make in exchange for a subscription fee.
“Consistently, they were saying how they weren’t able to make a living, particularly full-time or near full-time drivers, and then, also…they felt voiceless, like they weren’t heard, that they didn’t feel like they were a customer,” Sear told FFXnow in a recent interview. “…The rider is the customer for Uber and Lyft, and the more I thought about, I started to wonder, ‘Well, what would it look like if drivers were customers?'”
Since launching service in the D.C. region two years ago, the McLean-based startup has supported over 2.5 million rides given by about 10,000 drivers, who have collectively earned more than $40 million, Sear says.
Once touted as better-paying options than taxis, both Uber and Lyft have been dogged by questions about driver pay for years, even after the former paid $20 million to settle federal claims that it was misleading drivers in 2017.
Reports indicate that drivers only receive about half of what riders pay and that the companies take a bigger chunk of fares than the 20 to 25% advertised, discrepancies that have persisted despite soaring prices and led drivers in Denver to strike last month.
Where those ride-sharing companies take a portion of each fare, which is calculated based on trip length and duration, demand and other factors, Empower charges drivers a flat subscription rate for use of its app and other services, including customer support for both driver and rider complaints, according to Sear.
Though the company provides recommended rates, drivers set their own fares and keep everything that riders pay, an approach that Sear says has proven appealing to both parties.
“We do a lot of surveys and get feedback from both riders and drivers, and our surveys as to why do you use Empower for riders, the second most prevalent answer is because drivers get 100% of the fare,” Sear said, adding that the top answer is that the rides are generally less expensive.
He says Empower also aims to provide more transparency to drivers, who can see pick-up and drop-off locations and the rate for each ride before they choose to accept it, and more options for riders, who can “favorite” drivers and limit matches to drivers of the same gender. Read More