4 mins read

HopSkipDrive beats new California ridesharing emissions targets

Youth rideshare startup HopSkipDrive beat two key new California emissions standards in 2023, an accomplishment the company believes will bolster its case for relying more on shared passenger vehicles to get kids and teens to and from school.

The company tells TechCrunch that electric vehicles drove 8% of all miles the platform in the state last year, 400% more than the 2% target set by California’s Air Resources Board (CARB). Total emissions for the year in California were 240 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger mile, comfortably under the 252 grams-per-mile benchmark.

It’s a feather in the cap but also an added selling point for the decade-old company, which has had to remake itself a few times over the years as it faces increased competition — including from Uber — and new challenges, like a recent data breach.

One of those evolutions came during the pandemic. That’s when CEO Joanna McFarland says her team pushed to build its own strategic route planning software for schools using machine learning, creating a new business line adjacent to the rideshare offering.

The goal was to help make school transportation networks more efficient and also alleviate driver shortage concerns. While drivers must have five years of child care experience, they don’t need the commercial license required to operate a school bus.

“We can be more than just a care-centered transportation marketplace,” McFarland remembers thinking. “We can really solve these school transportation challenges and help lead school transportation into a newer, cleaner era.”

The targets HopSkipDrive cleared were established as part of CARB’s Clean Miles Standard and Incentive Program, which was passed in 2018 in an effort to clean up the fleets of so-called Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft. That regulation went into effect in 2023, and TNCs like HopSkipDrive are required to submit their results later this year.

HopSkipDrive beat the targets for two reasons, McFarland says. First, California already has a fairly high rate of electric vehicle adoption, thanks to a mix of regulatory policy and economic incentives. In fact, HopSkipDrive says 36% of all vehicles that completed a ride in California last year were electric, hybrid, or fuel cell.

The second is the route planning software. “That dramatically reduces the number of miles driven and the amount of emissions,” she said, because “many school districts have very inefficient routes.”

“Anytime you have less than 12 kids on a school bus, a better option is actually to put those kids into sedans, and that reduces the emissions, that reduces mileage, and makes the entire operation more efficient,” she said.

That may seem counterintuitive at a time when the Biden administration is lining up a billion dollars in federal funding for schools to adopt electric buses. But in some cases, those buses won’t be ready immediately. And while a billion dollars is a lot of money, it won’t buy clean school buses for every district in the country.

Besides, McFarland says, “how our kids are getting to school has changed dramatically over the last 30 years.” Urban planning fans may cringe at the thought of slow-moving multi-lane dropoff and pickup lines, but funding for electric buses isn’t going to inspire those schools — or parents — to immediately change their ways, she says.

“It’s a great thing that is happening. It’s going to take a little bit longer than I think some of the excitement that is surrounding it,” she says. “I think what we offer is a real way to accelerate that, and accelerate districts meeting some of their goals that they won’t be able to without services like ours.”

McFarland says the flexibility of passenger vehicles is helpful for students who are experiencing homelessness, or in foster care, or going through any other situation where they have to move around a lot. She says kids are also more open to carpooling, a feature that has struggled to catch on with the big rideshare services like Uber and Lyft.

“These increased individualized needs are really wreaking havoc on a fixed route school bus model,” she says. “We can really solve the school transportation crisis in this country and do it in a way that makes far more sense is better for our families, it’s better for our communities, and it’s better for our schools.”

Source link