Can Campus Cruizer Replace the Taxicab at N.C. State (and beyond)?
N.C. State students create campus-based designated driver service
BY SARAH BILL
Filed Under: NEWS: Startups
Taxi drivers in the N.C. State area may be a little confused over a recent decrease in drunk student calls. There is a new competitor on the scene.
N.C. State students Arjun Aravindan (pictured right) and Tomer Shvueli (left) launched the sober driving startup Campus Cruizer in February. It is an online platform with a mobile app that allows pre-registered designated student drivers to connect with students needing a safe ride home.
“We have the Cruizers who drive for us, and the Boozers who request rides,” says Shvueli. “We have a universal phone number the Boozers call, and that redirects them to a Cruizer who's currently driving in our queue.”
They say their service offers advantages the taxi companies cannot match: a comfortable ride, lower rates and the ability to support fellow students. Not to mention the ability to coordinate rides effortlessly from a mobile phone.
Campus Cruizer is hopping on a couple national trends. There's the movement to reinvent the taxicab and private car industry, led by San Francisco-based Uber, which allows busy professionals in 70 cities to find, call and pay drivers using a mobile app, and Lyft, a ride-sharing app which caters more to the casual commuter (drivers are known to give fist-bumps and wear iconic pink mustaches).
And then there's the "sharing economy" trend, in which people share some aspect of their lives with others in order to make money. Airbnb lets people rent out their homes to others. Taskrabbit gives people the opportunity to complete odd jobs for others in their community. The local startup Sweeps is similar to Taskrabbit but only allows college students to complete the jobs.
How Campus Cruizer differentiates
Although similar designated driver services exist on other college campuses (Appalachian State has Beepdrive and UNC Chapel Hill has Buzz Rides), Campus Cruizer has a few distinguishing features. For instance, the interview process for potential Cruizers ensures drivers have a safe driving record. It also gives student riders a level of comfort.
“Some people showed concern with [other designated driver programs], saying ‘I'm not sure who this person is. I don't know if they're weird'. That's what our interview process helps with,” says Shvueli.
Campus Cruizer also protects driver information by acting as a middle-man between the Boozers and Cruizers. A CruizeLine receives incoming caller information, such as location and phone number, and pushes it out to Cruizers in the queue. This way, drivers do not receive unwanted phone calls or feel vulnerable.
Participants can also use the Campus Cruizer iOS phone app. Cruizers are able to register their account and log in to the queue when they are ready to drive. Boozers use the app to call the CruizeLine, which connects them to drivers. Soon, they'll be able to pay with credit card via the app too.
In the future, the pair plans to increase profits by selling driver queue spots called Cruizer Coins to registered Cruizers. Drivers get three free coins when they are approved to drive—one gets them in the queue for eight hours. They can buy more for $3 each. The plan is to incentivize drivers by guaranteeing a return on their purchase price with one single Cruize.
"Sharing" is still new; how government is responding
Though technology platforms like these are taking off, there's a downside, too. Aspects of these new platforms are subject to scrutiny since most regulations do not have sharing technology covered under the law. Uber and Lyft have been targets of lawmakers in some states who argue that they aren't meeting the same safety and insurance standards as a taxi company (or in some cases, abiding by laws governing taxi fees).
In September 2013, the California Public Utilities Commission classified Lyft as a new type of entity: transportation network company, or TNC. This ruling set certain standards, including minimum liability insurance of $1 million and background checks for the drivers. On another front, Airbnb agreed to start collecting hotel taxes in October 2013 after pressure mounted from officials in its two largest markets: San Francisco and New York.
The Campus Cruizer founders agree they are in a risky business. “It includes college students, drinking and driving. Well, separately, but there's a lot of liability in there,” says Shvueli.
They have taken precautions such as requiring Cruizers to upload a copy of their driver's license and insurance card, and they have terms of service agreement. North Carolina has not created legislation yet regarding TNCs, and Campus Cruizer has not registered as one. With the legal liability taken care of, they want to expand to other campuses across the nation.
How Campus Cruizer will grow
Aravindan and Shvueli have bootstrapped the venture so far, and they earn extra money to fund the company by Cruizing on nights when drivers are short-handed.
Besides some assistance from fellow design students and social network promotions from friends, they have relied solely on their own backgrounds to launch the product. They are both computer science majors. Aravindan is a junior, and Shvueli is a senior graduating in December.
Once they are able to refine the service, which is still in its Beta phase, Aravindan and Shvueli plan to expand to other campuses across the nation. They'll consider alcohol sales, student car ownership and average taxi rates in the decision. “We need to set our rates differently per campus,” says Shvueli.
The positive response to Campus Cruizers reveals a large number of student drinkers, but the men are not concerned they're triggering increased alcohol consumption.
“We're not sure how it will affect the trends of drinking, but we want to increase the trends of responsible drinking. If they do choose to drink, we want to make sure they don't get behind the wheel of a car,” says Aravindan. “One of our mottos is ‘party responsibly'.”
The taxis drivers may have some planning to do.
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