Vancouver’s downtown Ryd shuttle has grown quickly since its debut last spring. The service has expanded from a single electric commuter shuttle to a fleet of three and CEO Casey Wyckoff expects to add more in the next six months.
“Our demand currently exceeds our capacity,” he says.
But there’s a hurdle the service needs to clear before it can keep expanding: It needs a ride-hailing app. That’s why Ryd and the city of Vancouver have entered the upcoming Greater Portland Tech Challenge to connect with technology firms that might help develop the app.
The goal is to have an app developed and released by the summer, Wyckoff says.
The tech challenge is an annual event organized by Greater Portland Inc. and the Technology Association of Oregon. It gives technology firms an opportunity to explore partnerships with public agencies to solve local challenges.
The event plays out as a series of pitch meetings. Public agencies are given four minutes to describe their challenge and technology companies have four minutes to pitch their solutions. The groups follow up with direct consultations to generate a list of pilot projects. The groups spend the next several months developing the solution.
Other agencies with challenges on the docket this year include Explore Washington Park, which is seeking a better way to count visitors arriving at the park via TriMet MAX, and NW Natural, which is seeking an online tool to help connect qualifying customers with the company’s low-cost weatherization services.
Wyckoff is also the principal at LSW Architects. He and other staff created the nonprofit Ryd Vancouver program to help combat a parking shortage at the firm’s downtown Vancouver headquarters. The service allows employees to park in underutilized remote locations in downtown and then hop on a shuttle to ride the rest of the way.
After testing the service with its own employees, LSW invited other downtown businesses with similar parking challenges to join the program. The city has been a supporter, seeing Ryd as a potential solution to the downtown parking crunch.
“We’re excited about Ryd having a creative strategy that promotes transportation options downtown,” says Theresa Brum, the city’s economic development division manager. “We look at it as a way to build more transportation options in the downtown core.”
The electric vehicles are operated in a daily rotation that allows for breaks to recharge without creating gaps in the service. The first shuttle was purchased used for about $15,000 and has a range of about 25 miles, Wyckoff says. The most recent was purchased new for about $30,000, and includes an upgraded battery that can last for about 70 miles.
“It can almost make it through the whole day (on one charge),” Wyckoff says.
Ryd’s shuttles have two operating periods, Wyckoff says: The commuter assistance phase in the morning and evening and the daytime trips in between. The shuttles typically serve 60 to 80 riders during the commuting hours, plus another 50 to 100 during the day.
The six-person shuttles serve employees at downtown businesses that have signed up for the service. Riders call the shuttle by texting a driver. But that system will quickly become overwhelming for the drivers if Ryd continues to grow, Wyckoff says.
Ryd already has a team designing the ride-hailing app, Wyckoff says, but the company will need to seek more expertise during the development process. Brum heard about the Tech Challenge because she serves on the regional committee for Greater Portland Inc., and she suggested that Ryd apply. The ride-hailing app was selected from three project proposals the city suggested.
“They brought it to our attention and we said that seems like a great opportunity, so let’s do it,” Wyckoff says.
The ride-hailing app will lead to an expansion in the service’s availability. Wyckoff says he hopes it will enable Ryd to offer a subscription-based service to individual riders instead of just downtown businesses.
The city wants Ryd to serve a more riders from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Another goal is to explore ways in which the Ryd app and service could be integrated with other present and future transit options like C-Tran, Bikeshare and e-scooter services, Wyckoff says.
The app would be similar to other ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. But Wyckoff says Ryd’s local service area will allow the app to highlight businesses within Vancouver’s downtown core, connecting riders with services and businesses.
It will also allow Ryd to continue to grow organically, adding more vehicles as needed and potentially expanding the service area to cover places like the Columbia riverfront and Clark College.
Ryd is designed for short-range or “last mile” commuting trips, so there’s a limit to how far the Vancouver service can spread geographically. But Wyckoff says the long-term goal is for the service to be replicated in other cities, passing on the lessons learned from the Vancouver rollout and by potentially franchising the service in new locations.
That’s another reason to join the Tech Challenge, Wyckoff says — Ryd’s primary audience will be the technology companies that can help with app development. But the secondary audience will be other cities and agencies that might be interested in Ryd’s public-private partnership model.
“I hope they see the success of the collaboration,” Wyckoff says.
The 2019 Greater Portland Tech Challenge is presented by Portland General Electric and will be held on the morning of Feb. 27 at Daimler Trucks North America in Portland. More information about the challenges and participating agencies can be found at www.greaterportland2020.com/techchallenge. The deadline for technology companies to register for the event is Friday.