If you were to create a hybrid of a public bus service and Uber, you'd get Loup.
The startup runs black town cars on a set route throughout San Francisco, and riders book trips on their phones.
Its founders aim to address the inherent weaknesses of the public transit infrastructure, which is strained, often unpredictable and inflexible. And while companies like Lyft and Uber are experimenting with pairing passengers to share rides that overlap and split the price, Loup asserts that a better and more scalable carpooling approach might be establishing routes that passengers can rely on.
Loup is at least the third San Francisco startup to try something similar in the past year. That's even down to linking up the same neighborhoods, with Loup's first route paralleling the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's 30x bus through the Marina, North Beach and downtown. Apparently there are a lot of people with that same crappy bus commute who'd really like to give it a tech startup makeover.
Loup has now raised $1.5 million from Obvious Ventures (the new venture capital firm from Twitter and Medium founder Evan Williams), IDG Ventures and a long list of 27 different angel investors.
The other San Francisco bus startups, Leap Transit and Chariot, also raised seed funding, though Leap got some pretty bad press last year and is no longer online.
What's different about Loup, said co-founder and CEO Abtin Rostamian, is that it uses standard-sized commercially licensed sedans that it doesn't own — instead of buying up big buses and trying to fill them. (It's not entirely clear to me why the mode of transportation needs to be fancy black cars, but Rostamian said that may change down the line.)
Using an iOS app, riders book a seat on the next available Loup or a later one. Drivers are tapped to hop onto the route when there's demand and pick up assigned riders.
As for the criticism that this is just another income-gap-widening service from a tech startup, co-founder and COO Jimmy Ku argued that Loup, when it is more widely available, will be a good option for a whole lot of people. "We weren't trying to create another elitist transportation system," he said. "We want to create something that benefits as many people as possible."
To that end, Loup routes are established and prices are fixed — between $2.50 and $6 depending on the portion of the route. There's no surge pricing. "We just want everything to be predictable," said Rostamian.
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