Ario Keshani (SFS ’05) wants to change the way Washingtonians think about city transportation.
His startup app Split allows users to call for cars and save money by sharing rides with strangers who are traveling in the same direction, similar to Uber’s microtransit platform, UberPool, which launched in the District on Oct. 22.
“The idea was to create this hybrid between bus and taxi, which would have the convenience of a taxi while having a price that’s very low and close to the price of a bus,” Keshani said.
He’s experimented with other business ventures before, like a food truck app and a food delivery app, but Keshani saw a need for innovation in the transportation sector, and for more options in the D.C. area.
“We found there’s a lot of demand for good, convenient, quick transportation at a good price in D.C., even though D.C. is a city with a really good public transportation network,” Keshani said. “There are a lot of parts of the city that are not well connected to each other.”
Keshani said that it takes the average person 15 minutes to walk from Dupont to U Street, but it takes upwards of half an hour via Metro.
“In a neighborhood like Glover Park, just north of Georgetown, where they don’t have buses or Metro or anything, it can make people who live there think, ‘I could forgo buying a car,’” Keshani said. “Those kinds of real behavioral changes can have a very positive impact on people’s quality of life and the quality of the city by getting cars off the road.”
Right now, the app is gaining traction among millennials, college students and young professionals, according to Keshani.
“It’s a dynamic, cutting-edge technology and that’s often what that demographic is looking for,” Keshani said. “In the case of college students, our prices are extremely affordable, often less than half the cost of a taxi.”
The app, released in May, enters a crowded field of ridesharing apps operating in the District, such as Uber and Lyft. Other competitors include microtransit apps that pick up multiple passengers, like UberPool and Bridj. Carsharing app Getaround also launched in D.C. this year, offering locals a platform to rent out their cars to drivers.
Though Keshani declined to release any official data on its number of users or drivers, a July article in The Washington Post said that only 20 percent of rides were being shared since there was not a high enough demand to fill cars. Still, the company continues to grow. Keshani wrote in a follow-up email to The Hoya that ridership grew around 75 percent every month since May.
Currently Split only operates between start and end points in the core of Washington, but the company plans to expand and encompass all of D.C.’s neighborhoods as demand increases. All rides cost between $2 and $8 and customers are quoted a finalized price before they begin their rides.
Split hopes to expand to other cities around the world. Keshani noted that, though locals find traffic frustrating in Washington, it is often worse in the big cities of developing countries.
“If we can go to places like Delhi or Johannesburg or Nairobi or Sao Paulo and change the transportation landscape and allow people to get around for cheaper prices, it can really have an impact on the quality of life for people,” Keshani said.
The CEO cited his time at Georgetown as the foundation for many of his company’s policies and values.
“Georgetown was a place where, in a lot of ways, I went from being a kid to being an adult. It shaped a lot of the moral compass with which I’m trying to build a company,” Keshani said. “We are building a company that has a set of core values that we live on and that we make all of our decisions on. … A big part of that is to not only do well but also do good.”
Part of this is ensuring that drivers earn enough to make a living wage, but it goes beyond that, according to Keshani.
“We have an open-door policy — any driver can come hang out with us or chat with us whenever they want,” Keshani said. “Open door, any time, no reservation, no booking. Just walk in.”
They also create group chats with drivers and encourage them to contact executives at any time in order to problem solve.
“Those feel like little things, but they end up being really important when you’re talking to someone who in other companies feels like a number,” Keshani said.
Carolyn Vilter (COL ’17) said she was interested in the company, but favors public transportation.
“I think I would use it,” Vilter said. “It could do a lot to make services like Uber more accessible and more sustainable, which I think is awesome,” Vilter said. “I’m pretty loyal to public transportation, though.”
Sarina Jain (SFS ’17) heard about Split from a coworker this summer.
“To me, it seems like a convenience versus cost kind of thing,” Jain said. “If you’re not in a rush, this seems fine. But if you don’t have time to stop and pick up other people along the way, I feel like Uber or Lyft makes more sense.”
Jain added that there’s a safety component that needs to be taken into account with microtransit apps like Split.
“I think I’d use Split this year, as long as I knew that it was safe,” Jain said. “I don’t know if there’s a mechanism for figuring out who the other people in your car are. If it’s at night and I’m coming back from a neighborhood that I’m less familiar with, I feel like I’d prefer Uber to that.”