‘Shifting rides’ from parking lots to the street

Photo courtesy ShiftRide

According to former University of Waterloo student Nima Tahami, the average car spends 95 per cent of its time parked, unused, and inaccessible. With the creation of ShiftRide, Tahami hopes that’s all going to change.

Co-founded alongside fellow students, Deepak Parpyani and Mohsen Mohsenpour, the ShiftRide platform was launched in November of 2017 to provide licensed drivers aged 19 and over the ability to enjoy the convenience of a car without the costs of ownership.

The app, currently available for iOS, allows users to see nearby cars and their window of availability. Unlike typical car rentals, users do not need to inform owners of their expected usage, but book the car for unrestricted access for any period within the window.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Tahami said. “It’s a really close experience to owning the car because you’re really in control.”

The process uses of a lock box which, is either located near or attached to the car, holds the key. Upon booking, users receive the code for the lock box, giving them access to the vehicle without having to meet with the car owners themselves.

According to Tahami, this efficiency is central to the service.

“We didn’t want to make it in a way that people would have to meet every time,” he said. “We wanted to make it as automated as possible.”

In the future, Tahami hopes technology will progress to the point of bluetooth-operated lock boxes, and eventually, cars operable without the use of keys, allowing users direct access via the internet.

The pricing structure, which ShiftRide claims is “optimized for short trips within the city,” breaks down to an average base fee of $2.50, $0.45 per kilometer, and $0.05 per minute before tax, which covers insurance and gas. Following the trip, users are billed appropriately for their trip.

Price estimates can be forecast by way of the app, allowing users to approximate the cost of usership before committing to a trip. As the company notes, prices may fluctuate due to demand and availability.

According to Tahami, ShiftRide will offer dramatically lower costs of car usership in comparison to ownership.

“Based on what I’ve read, [the cost of] owning an average car is around $800 per month,” he said.

Beyond saving money, Tahami hopes the service will cater to a changing demand of what he predicts will be a generation of renters.

“Our generation really doesn’t care about car ownership as much as the previous one,” he said, noting the emergence of automated and self-driving cars. “It’s not really ownership any more that’s going to be the future.”

The app, which recently surpassed 350 total bookings in Waterloo, employs a two-sided rating system, which allows users to rate the condition of the car.  Via in-car measurements, ShiftRide assesses the quality of usership in terms of timeliness, distance traveled, and more.

Much like the system employed by Uber, these precautions strive to ensure that both users and owners receive quality service with each booking.

Beyond this, the system also notes time in which a vehicle vacant and suggests windows in which an owner could make it more available for use.

Currently based in the Velocity garage space, the company took root in May 2016 when founders Nima Tahami, Deepak Parpyani, and Mohsen Mohsenpour met in the Velocity residence.

Reflecting on his time as a student, Tahami recalled the numerous occasions when he needed a service like ShiftRide.

In particular, his time on co-op in Toronto was enlightening; in his everyday affairs, Tahami was struck by the inflexibility of arriving directly to or from a destination with ride services or otherwise braving the winter on public transit. While doing so, the former-computer science student noted the gap between individuals willing to use cars versus the number of vehicles so often left parked and unused.

“I realized there’s definitely a gap here, we definitely could do something so that both sides would win,” Tahami said.

Originally, the startup took its inspiration from various US-based ride-sharing companies, but soon pivoted.

“These companies are great,” he said, “but … there’s something that’s missing.”

He added, “instead of attaching cars to people, like using car ownership, we’ve come up with a smarter model.”

“From that time until we launched, we were spending a majority of the time crafting the right insurance policy,” Tahami said.

The challenge was to find a policy under which drivers could use the car without owner liability.

“We have this secondary layer of insurance,” he divulged, “So that when a car owner signs up their car, their insurance stays the same while we add a layer of insurance on top of it.”

“They’re covered under us, essentially,” Tahami said.

“Since then, we’ve been adding more cars to the platform, getting people more exposed to the platform, having them try [it] … really our mission is to make day-to-day travel easier.”

The company’s current focus is the recruitment of car owners.

According to Tahami, ShiftRide will increasingly work to “lift the pressure of owning a car,” and hopes to provide car owners guaranteed income, car maintenance and more.

Currently, the average owner makes in the neighbourhood of $200 per month from ShiftRide. With time and increasing demand, Tahami hopes this will increase to $500.

As far as the development process itself, Tahami’s journey wasn’t always a smooth ride.

“There’s definitely been ups and downs,” he said, noting in particular the support which ShiftRide has received through University of Waterloo course offerings, Velocity, and the Centre for Social Innovation. “Those tools definitely helped me.”

Moving forward, Tahami hopes to see continued local growth with an increasing number of registered cars and returning users.

“Right now, we are covering a good region of Waterloo, where there are a lot of students,” he said. “But definitely, we’d like to be everywhere so that people are able access these cars anywhere.”