Scoop, a carpooling app, just debuted in Seattle for trips to and from downtown-South Lake Union, and is getting some funding from the city. It aims to match drivers with riders on daily commutes. Riders pay a fee to cover drivers’ costs, and the app takes a small cut.
Carpools are good. Fewer cars on the road. Fewer carbon emissions. Shared gas costs. Access to faster lanes. Less traffic congestion.
Carpools are tricky. What if you want to skip a day? What if you have to stay late? Or leave early? It’s kind of awkward to ask for and fork over gas money. And, really, how many people live and work near enough to you to make the whole venture worthwhile?
The answer, apparently, is enough.
Enter Scoop, a carpooling app that debuted in Seattle, with limited service, last month and is getting financial incentives from the city and some of its biggest employers. It aims to match carpool riders with drivers for morning and afternoon commutes. You can use it once, a few times a week or every day.
Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.
How it works: You tell the app where you live and where you work and whether you want to get a ride or drive some riders. The app then tries to match drivers and riders who both live and work close to each other. Depending on the distance of the ride, riders pay between $2 and $10 per trip — all of which goes to the driver, except for a dollar per rider, per trip, that goes to Scoop.
For a ride to work, users have to submit a request by 9 the night before. And for a ride home, the request has to be in before 3:30 that afternoon. You’re unlikely to get the same drivers or riders each day.
For now, Scoop is only doing rides to and from the downtown-South Lake Union area as it tries to build a user base big enough to ensure consistent matches.
Scoop launched in the Bay Area in 2015, where it now has “tens of thousands” of users taking more than 100,000 trips a month, said Rob Sadow, Scoop’s CEO and co-founder, declining to offer more specific numbers.
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In theory, every Scoop rider takes a vehicle off the road, easing traffic, although it’s unclear how many are switching over from public transit, a swap that does little to help gridlock.
“Our mission as a company is how do you build congestion-free communities?” Sadow said. “How do you make it so congestion is not a top-three issue in basically every metro area in the world, and getting back and forth to work isn’t the worst, one, two, three hours in everybody’s daily experience?”
Sadow, a former consultant for Bain and Co., founded Scoop with his brother, a former products manager at Google.
He said that their upbringing in Atlanta, driving a 25-mile commute to get to high school, helped spur Scoop’s creation.
“It’s not like we woke up one morning and oh, we had this idea,” Sadow said. “It was a topic we both had personal history with and a lot of passion for.”
Others doing carpool tech, too
The company is not the first to try to tech-up the old-fashioned carpool.
Lyft Carpool launched in the Bay Area last year and shuttered within five months, as not enough drivers signed up.
Uber is planning on launching a pilot version of its carpooling service, called Commute, in the Washington, D.C., area in the coming months.
Waze, the traffic app owned by Google, is currently running a pilot carpool service that has expanded from the Bay Area to Sacramento and Monterey, California.
King County Metro has an online carpooling matchup site, but it’s less user-friendly than Scoop and tends to be easier for people seeking a consistent carpool each morning and evening. The county will even give you a van to operate your own carpool, provided you have at least four other people to share the commute and collect fares. There are more than 1,500 county van pools already on the road.
And the county has launched an app-based carpool match program, on a pilot basis, in southeast Redmond.
There are also services like UberPOOL and Lyft Line that operate somewhere on the spectrum between a paid carpool and a taxi.
Sadow says the Scoop business model is different: focusing only on commuters and on longer trips that would be more expensive with a ride-hailing company.
Scoop has announced a little more than $5 million in venture-capital funding.
‘Free rides for Amazonians’
Scoop also is partnering with local businesses that already subsidize their employees’ transportation costs through parking, shuttles or ORCA cards, to try to get them to subsidize Scoop trips.
Scoop won’t say which companies it’s working with in Seattle, or how many, but at least one of them is not much of a mystery.
Around South Lake Union in recent days, people have been handing out Scoop fliers advertising “free rides for Amazonians,” and Amazon confirmed it is subsidizing the service for its employees for the time being.
Also looking to subsidize the service: the Seattle Department of Transportation, through a state-funded program designed to reduce the number of solo drivers on the road. SDOT would offer $2 to $3 per trip to Scoop riders and drivers in South Lake Union and north downtown. The pilot program, set to launch in about a week, has $49,000 in funding and is expected to run about three months, SDOT spokesman Norm Mah said.
“The goal is to encourage drivers in our most congested areas to try this new convenience of carpooling and make it a part of their daily commute,” Mah said.
As it launches in Seattle, Scoop is also offering promotional pricing, which makes its longer-term affordability and viability a little difficult to suss out.
“The prices for riders will stay between $2 and $10 and for drivers it will stay at the same level,” Sadow said. “It will not change in any drastic way over time.”
The company says that when it partners with businesses, the cost to the business averages $3 per employee trip.
On two morning rides from Ballard to South Lake Union recently, I paid $2 each ride. I shared one ride with an Amazon employee, who paid nothing. The driver, also an Amazon employee, got $11.
On the other ride, I rode solo with the driver, again an Amazon employee, who got $7.
Both rides were pleasant, quick and efficient, with small talk about the weather, high rent prices and Uber.
Limited background checks
Scoop runs motor-vehicle-history checks on all of its drivers, but not criminal background checks, as is required of taxi, Uber and Lyft drivers in Seattle.
Scoop says it is not a transportation network company — the term that encompasses Uber and Lyft — which is significant because Seattle has a host of regulations on such companies, including fees and insurance requirements. The city agrees, classifying the company as “flexible commuter ride sharing” and exempt from for-hire laws.
The company says its reimbursements to drivers are capped at the IRS’ limit for carpooling, about 54 cents a mile, and so are not considered income. Drivers can also get higher payments if they pay for parking or tolls or if the company is offering promotional pricing or has a partnership with a driver’s employer.
“Scoop does not hire or contract with any drivers,” spokesman Dave Clavens said. “We’re just linking up drivers who are doing their commutes anyway.”