Lift Hero, which soft-launched this fall, isn’t just a ridesharing service for the elderly, who can hail a car driven by medical professionals. It’s an important step in the evolution of ridesharing, from expensive limousine service for yuppies to a service for the nation’s disadvantaged.
Last year, The New Yorker‘s George Packer wrote an essay lambasting Silicon Valley for being a place where the “hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up.” Uber was Packer’s inspiration for this now-famous sentence.
But Packer and like-minded critics share a pessimism about technology that tends to be disproven with time: Services may begin with friends and associates, but they quickly expand, not just in population but in scope. Facebook started as a social network that connected college singles. Eventually it became a rallying platform of pro-democracy Egyptian revolutionaries.
Uber and Lyft may deserve a bit of Packer’s criticism. One of the most searing critiques of the two most popular ridesharing services is that they don’t help elderly and disabled riders. (Most Ubers and Lyfts can’t accommodate a wheelchair.) Lift Hero, however, is designed for passengers that they cannot or will not take. Thanks to the trail blazed by these ridesharing startups, Lift Hero now has a well-worn path to offer a service traditionally done by taxis — and better.
Founder Jay Connolly says that his service never would have been possible without his predecessors. “Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar have made Lift Hero possible by normalizing ridesharing in consumers’ minds, blazing the regulatory trail, and helping to define a new category of insurance that was needed. We’re adapting many of the same innovations for people who wouldn’t otherwise benefit from them.”
Unlike Uber and Lyft, Lift Hero guarantees round-trip availability and lets users book over the phone or a family member through their web app. Lift Hero brings in revenue, too.
The “primary business model is a transaction fee from what is paid to drivers, but we are only taking 5 percent at the moment as we look to grow our driver base,” explains Connolly.
It’s frustrating to see products and services initially developed for those who need them the least, not the most — such as the elderly, who have perhaps the most to gain from transportation startups but have been excluded due to technological barriers. However, as time has proven, technology tends to benefit the rich before the poor. Back in the ’80s, cell phones were for high-powered bankers. Now we can buy disposable phones at a convenience store.
And first we had Uber and Lyft, but now we have Lift Hero. It’s yet another great example of why tech critics sometimes need to be patient.