New York company wants customers to share the ride and make new friends
The ride-sharing app Rally brings together people heading to the same place for the same reason for a crowd-sourced bus trip. It’s making inroads into convincing a new generation to forgo cars in favor of a bus to attend major sports, entertainment and political events.
“We are taking people out of cars and putting them on buses. There are hundreds of millions of people who are spending money on event transportation right now, and we think that money should be coming to the bus industry instead of to parking and gas,” said founder and CEO Numaan Akram. Akram was a key speaker at the United Motorcoach Association’s first annual Sales Summit last month at the Mall of America.
The business, he said, was inspired by a personal experience attempting to organize a bus trip from New York City to Washington, D.C., in 2013 to attend Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Insanity. The stumbling block was paying for the rental cost up front on a credit card. With Akram’s ability to quickly create an app, he and partner Siheun Song decided to crowdfund the trip. In fewer than five weeks, they organized transportation for 5,000 people from 18 states and 50 cities.
Rally solves a lot of the challenges associated with going to big events, such as traffic and parking, but the biggest appeal is hanging out with other fans on the way there and back.
New deal for operators
The company is expanding beyond the traditional client-vendor relationship to a partnership with revenue-sharing agreements.
“We’re asking the operators to help co-promote and co-market with us in return for a revenue share. So, instead of just making a flat $1,000, you can see more money,” Akram said, adding that sharing can add up to 50 percent of revenue, sometimes more.
This new phase is coming as Daimler Mercedes has invested in Rally to take the company to the next level. Rally revamped its website and apps to let anyone create a trip on the platform and share a link with friends.
“Everyone pays their own way, so no one person has to be responsible. The same technology and apps and features that we’ve created for public trips can be used for a private trip,” Akram said.
Winning NFL fans
Football is Rally’s biggest segment right now. The small company sent buses to almost 100 NFL games this past season. The high mark was shuttling 1,200 riders to a Green Bay Packers game, which represented 1.5 percent of the gate attendance. The Buffalo Bills organization is now working directly with Rally, marking the company’s first partnership with an NFL team.
“The Bills were looking for some help on how they can improve the fan experience to make it easier to get to the game,” Akram said.
Tom McCaughey, owner of Flagship Trailways in Cranston, Rhode Island, and a United Motorcoach Association member, is one of 500 motorcoach operators nationwide that has worked with Rally.
McCaughey praises the company for paying on time and being on top of their game in terms of support. Rally’s operations call center quickly tracks down passengers who don’t make it to pick-up points on time.
Generally, Rally customers tend to be well-behaved. McCaughey thinks that is because they begin the trip as strangers and end as friends.
“Most of my drivers are very excited to do Rally trips,” said McCaughey, adding that those who aren’t are intimidated by the reliance on a phone app.
The model values drivers
Rally is designed to make drivers’ lives easier. They get all instructions on their phones. The company pays the drivers a tip, and then encourages customers to do the same after taking a short survey about the trip.
“Drivers are the keystone to this,” Akram said. “If they are not happy, the riders aren’t going to be happy. We’re not going to be happy. So, we really want them to be rewarded and to be seen as an instrumental part of this. We show drivers what their ratings are, what their reviews are and how much they’ve earned in the app.”
Akram says he isn’t looking to partner with the lowest cost operators but ones who understand technology, have invested in the newest equipment and have the best drivers.
So far, the company has concentrated on day trips. The model is about embracing technology and an innovative way to reach a new demographic: people traveling as individuals or in pairs.
“That old thinking of the bus as a default, because I’m going to take my car, is what goes out the window. They are looking for the best way to get somewhere. It may be the subway today, Uber tomorrow and Rally the third day. It’s not just about the car anymore,” Akram said.