Esther Kustanowitz - Consulting & Freelancing Whether you need a content plan, communications strategies, or a social media orientation, I can help you. Reasonable rates available - contact me at esther.kustanowitz at gmail.com.
At the "step-and-repeat" at the Opoli launch party in L.A., 6/26/14
Here’s a fun fact - I lived in L.A. for four years without a car.
This fact is a stunner for many, who can’t imagine life in L.A. as a mostly-pedestrian; when they learned I was from New York City, many questioned whether I had ever learned to drive a car at all. (As a Jersey girl, I had.) Truth is, it was a challenge to live in this vast city without the great public transportation of NYC, and without wheels of my own. Cabs were expensive, public transportation was unreliable. But I made it work, by offering to drive friends to parties so that they could drink without worrying about impaired driving on the way back, and by borrowing or renting cars when I really needed it. It worked. But once I got my own car, things were obviously easier.
Naturally, as soon as I had my own car, Los Angeles saw an invasion of ridesharing services - Uber, Sidecar & Lyft, among emerging others - that offered cheaper-than-taxi rates for the vehicularly challenged or for people who didn’t want to worry about driving somewhere. As a (perhaps overly) cautious person, I found something about getting in a car with a stranger to be slightly scary, but Lyft especially made me feel safe, as if no axe murderers would be driving around in cars with pink carstaches and giving you fistbumps. The drivers I spoke to were regular people - non-professional drivers, but making a little extra money in their spare time. Still, I was aware of some iffy legal issues (especially surrounding airport pickups, which have been banned for Lyft & Uber), and at the end of the day, these drivers aren’t commercially licensed, and like with a cab, there was no way of knowing what the charges were before you get in the car. An app called Opoli wants to change all that, as a first step toward finding you everything you need, not just a ride from A to B. But rides are what they’re starting with, featuring drivers who are commercially licensed and fully insured to transport commercial passengers. (My experience testing the app is below this ABC news video segment, plus an offer to a number of readers to receive $50 test codes.)
Two weeks ago, I got into a Tesla (with an Opoli driver) which took me to the Opoli (pronounced "opp-uh-lee") app launch party (because that’s a thing now). The company founder described it as a “next generation transportation app,” that gives providers (previously known as “drivers”) and users the opportunity (therefore the name) to communicate directly with each other. After the app suggests a rate, the user can raise or lower the rate and send it out to drivers; drivers - considering where they are, what time of day it is, whether they even want another fare or not - determine what their price would be. Then the user can peruse the incoming bids, look at pictures of the drivers and their respective vehicles, and accept a bid to reserve the car at that cost, and pay using the app (which is linked to your credit card).
The prices run a bit higher than Lyft, but you get a certified and registered driver, in usually a much nicer car, plus you can order a car in advance for a specific date and time (like those pesky early morning airport runs). My Tesla driver said that Uber takes 25% off of the total he makes. (Another Opoli driver estimated it as 20%.) But with Opoli, he gets to charge what trips are worth to him (and with a nicer car, he can demand more) - with no commission to Opoli, customers get better prices.
For instance, for my trip from the iPic Theater in Westwood to my apartment in Pico-Robertson, Opoli estimated a charge of $26, giving me the option to bid lower if I wanted. I went to $23: within a few seconds, my phone populated a list of 7 drivers with different kinds of cars, different rates (ranging from $20 to $75). I went with a very nice Lincoln Town Car for $20. On a subsequent trip, a Town Car from LAX to Pico-Robertson cost me $36 (about $10 more than a Lyft and about $8-10 less than a taxi).
Thus far, I’ve been playing with “Opoli money” - a credit on my account that lets me test the app without actually spending any of my own freelancer cash. Depending on my budget and on timing, Opoli might be a nicer alternative that is just luxurious enough to indulge in every once in a while. And for small businesses that want to provide insured and officially registered car service from events - or for prospective dates looking to impress someone special with a night on the town free of the agita that accompanies driving and parking - I can imagine this app doing very well.
Because Opoli launched less than a month ago, they’re still working out some of the technical glitches. For instance, while the app predicts when your car will arrive, LA traffic is enough of a beast to impact that prediction - my LAX trip was estimated as 25 minutes away, and I waited much longer for the car to arrive - at one point the app said the driver was 6 minutes away, and it took another 20. (But to an extent, that’s just that LAX loop for you.) One earlier version of the app wouldn’t retain the credit card information associated with my account, requiring me to re-enter it every time I wanted to reserve a ride - but customer service has been responsive to problems, and the drivers I’ve spoken to it love the freedom it gives them to determine which rides are convenient for them when. They are happy to drive, greet you with a smile, open the vehicle doors for you (many offer candies and bottled water in transit), and at the end of the ride, say - some of them almost gleefully - “thank you for using Opoli!"
While Opoli currently only provides access to car service companies (in Los Angeles county), it has its eyes on a future that provides many more opportunities than that, both for the providers and users. At the launch event, the company founders spoke about the platform as being more than just transportation - they imagined a future that enables consumers to find whatever they need, from a plumber to booking a hotel room. Beyond giving users the chance to name the value of the services they’re seeking, Opoli imagines itself as an opportunity to save small businesses, by offering them a chance to get their products in front of more consumers.
As Opoli works through its startup growing pains, the user experience will become more seamless, and enable users to access a fleet of experienced and licensed drivers with whom they’ve pre-negotiated a price for service. (If you’d like to be one of those test users, I’ve got a limited number of $50 codes so you can test it for yourselves…so drop me a line - myurbankvetch at gmail - and we’ll get you going...)