This Brilliant New App Calculates Where You Need To Go And Sends You A Bike Or A Tesla In Five Minutes

The Shift app uses an algorithm to figure out what kind of transportation makes the most sense for your journey and then makes it happen.

If you live in the city and you’re under 35, there’s a good chance you don’t care about owning a car. All that really matters is getting where you need to go. A new transit app called Shift figures out the best way to get there. In five minutes, it sends you a tiny electric car, a driver with a Tesla, or an electric bike, depending on how far you’re going, how much parking there might be, or what errands you need to run.


“A person’s need to move varies,” says Zach Ware, CEO of Shift, which is now piloting its service in downtown Las Vegas. “Sometimes you just need to go a mile or two, sometimes less. Sometimes you’re comfortable biking, sometimes you aren’t. And sometimes you just want to drive yourself around to accomplish a bunch of things in an afternoon.”

Rather than offer a single service, Shift decided to streamline everything. The app’s algorithm quickly calculates which service makes the most sense in a particular situation, so the user doesn’t have to make any decisions. “There is beauty in the simplicity of trusting one company rather than having seven to eight different apps,” Ware says.

The company hopes that by offering a mix of transit options–from a full fleet of Teslas, to Smart cars, electric bikes, on-demand drivers, and even a party bus–they can help ease more people into driving less, and completely eliminate the need to own a car.

“People change their habits slowly,” Ware explains. “Those of us who think about making mobility easier and quicker imagine a world that looks very different than the world we live in today…We often talk about how we would rather serve members in ways that look familiar today and over time help them evolve to new ways of moving rather than waste time trying to convince them today that they should radically change their behavior immediately.”

The service may be especially well suited for cities that have limited public transit, or a large base of commuters coming from the suburbs. “There are more cities that look like Las Vegas than there are cities like San Francisco,” Ware says. “We see dozens of cities with active urban cores, active halos around them with a real need for those urban workers and dwellers to travel out of the core to places not covered by easily accessible and affordable mobility options.”

The company will offer memberships rather than charging by the ride, so customers don’t have to waste time trying to figure out what might be the cheapest way to get somewhere. “When the cost to go from where you are to where you want to go is high or could vary and you don’t know how quickly you can be moving or how complex the journey will be, you are more likely to avoid the hassle and not do it,” Ware says.


Subscriptions will range from cheap bike-only access (around $25 a month) to plans that include around 30 rides a month, or unlimited access. Eventually, an ultra-premium plan may even offer the option to catch a ride on a private jet (though that seems a little more far-fetched).

The service is cheaper than owning your own car, Ware argues. “Cars are complex and expensive. The average cost of vehicle ownership in the U.S. is approaching $800 per month according to AAA and it sits idle 90% of the time according to the U.S. DOT. Particularly for people whose home and work lives center mainly around an urban core, those costs and the frustrations of dealing with your own car can be high.”

It’s also more convenient. “If you know that when you are in the urban core you can be on your way using the optimal car, bike or ride for your need within five minutes, you have the same control as your car provides but without the hassle of parking it, keeping track of it, etc.,” he says.

The company will also soon be rolling out commuter shuttles as part of the plan, to help get around the fact that public transit runs on fixed routes and can’t necessarily take people directly home. “It’s no secret that the last mile problem is huge,” Ware says. “What we believe is that dynamically routed systems that respond to members’ needs in real-time are much more efficient.”

Unlike a service like Uber or Lyft, all of the drivers for Shift’s on-demand rides will be full-time employees, and will handle everything from cleaning cars to instantly picking you up if something happens to go wrong with your car or bike.

The company will be opening up membership within 60 days.


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."