In any romantic comedy set in New York City, it’s pretty much a given that at some point the protagonist will try and wave down a cab, in the rain, only to find that all cabs are frustratingly taken. It doesn’t only happen in movies. When the gods are smiling down upon you, transportation works out well. Otherwise, you could find yourself waiting on a taxi line from LaGuardia for half an hour.
A ride-sharing app called Bandwagon aims to solve that problem, and by doing so, gently coax the city’s taxi system into a future of “modular transportation.” Creator and Brooklyn resident David Mahfouda’s pitch: By signing up for the service and paying for a seat, users can find fellow New Yorkers heading in the same direction, take the same cab, and pay less for the ride. The fare is split among passengers, and drivers and Bandwagon share a small premium.
Currently, Bandwagon’s offering trips to and from LaGuardia and JFK for under $10 and $25 respectively (cheaper than Uber’s promotional “free” Brooklyn rides, as it happens), and the company plans on expanding to more cities soon. Mahfouda isn’t just going after airports, either–rather, he envisions a world in which anyone can catch a cab-share at any time and from any corner.
“Our idea is: What can we do to make this more social, more efficient, more like transit?” Mahfouda says. As cities become denser and resources dwindle, Mahfouda wants Bandwagon to facilitate a shift to thinking of the car as part of a larger transportation network. “We’re making it easier and less expensive to be carless,” he said.
So far, Mahfouda, who used to stage collaborative performance art installations while a Harvard University undergrad, has been working closely with the New York State Energy and Research and Development Authority to run two pilot projects at LaGuardia and JFK. There, Bandwagon operates a program called “HopLane” inspired by High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes. If riders are waiting in line for a taxi, Bandwagon users can move to the front of the line if they’re willing to share the ride. They also unequivocally offer service to and from the outer boroughs–which can be a problem with New York City’s yellow cabs.
Bandwagon isn’t the first attempt at mass carpool, though other options are limited. For Washington, D.C., Houston, and the Bay Area, there’s a messageboard site called slug-lines, which helps “sluggers” share rides from certain pick-up and drop-off points so drivers can shave off commute time by using the HOV lane. The difference with Bandwagon is that Mahfouda’s software aims to pinpoint and coordinate riders’ itineraries on background without the postings–like all the Uber taxis on a map, minus the concept of personal chauffeurship.
Bandwagon is still in beta as the company runs pilots in New York and Montreal, but will present at the SXSW Eco startup showcase in October. If it finds success, drenched romcom protagonists will almost certainly have to find a new way to hit the “low” points in their character arcs: “We want this to be a solution for cities in general, so if you’re hailing a yellow cab you can hail it with a person in it already,” Mahfouda says.