I’ll be the first to say it: I use Uber, Lyft, and so on because San Francisco’s public transportation is pretty terrible and not meeting my needs.
Buses are a hot mess and our subway system won’t get you everywhere you need, so these alternative car services are a welcome new option. But what if we rethought private car services, giving them the things we like about public transportation, like predictable routes and lower prices? That’s exactly what a San Francisco startup named Loup is doing, and it’s announcing that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding.
Loup is a bit of cross between a private car service and mass transit. As with Uber, Lyft, and others, passengers can book a ride through a mobile app. And just like buses and trains, Loup runs predetermined routes and does so frequently. Although Loup’s model offers a lot of flexibility around the vehicles it can use, the company is first starting with black town cars through local limousine companies it has partnered with. It will take a 20 percent cut from each ride.
Loup’s first route will be similar to the San Francisco Muni’s 30x route, ferrying its passengers from the Marina neighborhood all the way to the Financial District during work commute hours. That particular route is a popular starting point for startups seeking to solve the work commute due to the high volume of passengers — both Chariot and the currently quiet Leap Transit got their starts with it.
“The 30x is the reason why this company exists,” said cofounder and chief executive Abtin Rostamian in an interview with VentureBeat. Rostamian himself endured that commute when he first moved to San Francisco and experienced the packed buses that often wouldn’t even pick him up because they were too full.
“The nice thing about a bus is that it’s predictable,” he said. Although timing isn’t always exact because of traffic, bus routes do have predetermined routes passengers can rely on.
That said, Loup’s route will change over time, depending on its users’ demands and as the startup optimizes its routes. They might even change from one day to another if, for example, construction requires a detour.
Loup is also designed to be flexible when it comes to the cars in its system. While it’s starting with the standard black cars which can seat up to three passengers, it can easily contract larger or additional vehicles based on demand.
“It’s our job when demand goes up to fill the capacity up with more vehicles,” Rostamian said. He declined to share exactly how many cars and companies Loup is contracting with, however.
Ultimately, Loup wants to become an alternative to public transit but with the upsides of the private car service for more than just commuting to work. Sure, lots of people take UberX or Lyft to go to work or to the grocery store, but they could also hop into a Loup ride. Loup’s current $2.50-$6 prices are already fairly competitive when compared to an UberX or Lyft ride and their respective carpooling services, and they have the potential of getting even lower. By comparison, Chariot, whose buses service the work commute, currently charges $4 or less per ride regardless of which pick-up and drop-off locations a passenger chooses. The prices vary based on the number of rides passengers purchase ahead of time.
The company is also learning from others’ mistakes, namely by starting with professional drivers, doing its own background checks on top of the ones their partnering driving services do, and staying away from public bus stops.
And it’s got some well-known believers: It raised its funding from Twitter cofounder Evan Williams’ Obvious Ventures, IDG Ventures, Greg Tseng, Enrique Salem, Brian Lee, Barney Pell, Alex Mehr, Shayan Zadeh, Kai Huang, Ali Moiz, Binh Tran, and Adeyemi Ajao, among others.
Loup was founded in 2014 by Aptin Rostamian and Jimmy Ku, and is based in San Francisco.