Taylor Budde stepped into the bright green electric shuttle parked outside her workplace in downtown Vancouver. A moment earlier, she’d texted the shuttle company, RYD, requesting a pickup.
As the car zipped away, she recalled working in downtown Portland, where she’d never know where she’d be able to park her car.
But now, working at Slumberkins, Budde uses RYD to make her commute easier. She parks at a lot leased by RYD, and an electric shuttle takes her the last mile to work — and at the end of the day, back to her car.
RYD and its cars are becoming a more visible feature of downtown Vancouver. Its fleet has grown from one car to five in the last 18 months as ridership grew into the hundreds. RYD is expanding in other ways too: It’s looking to lease more parking lots, and is beta testing a new app expected to launch in the spring.
Casey Wyckoff, founder and co-owner, sits in the back seat of the shuttle as it rattles over bumps in the road, heading to drop off Budde at her car.
“I think there’s been a consistent level of joy,” Wyckoff said. “It’s fun to be thinking about something that’s going to have an impact on our community.”
You can find RYD’s app in the App Store now, but it’s in beta testing and won’t be available to the general public until spring, Wyckoff said.
“We are in a phase of wanting to beta test it and then roll it out to a selected group of trusted innovators to give us feedback,” he said.
In the current user experience, people text RYD and wait to be picked up at their workplace or at a parking lot that RYD leases. RYD contracts with six companies to transport their employees, and those companies pay a monthly fee.
The RYD service offered now is a basic version of what’s to come.
Once the app is launched, any user can use RYD for free, but they can only be dropped off and picked up at certain locations. The RYD team will contract with local businesses as drop-off and pickup points, and in return, those businesses can see increased foot traffic in front of their stores.
The RYD app will also offer a subscription-based membership with added features. Within a certain geography, users will be able to hail a RYD from any location. The app will also allow individuals to register and pay for the shuttle service.
The current coverage area for RYD is roughly 15th Street to the north, Fort Vancouver Way to the east, Sixth Street to the south and Franklin Street to the west. Wyckoff said he wants to expand the service area from downtown Vancouver up to Northwest 45th Street and eastward to the Tower Mall area along East Mill Plain Boulevard.
The ultimate business model depends on the app, said Wyckoff.
RYD leases two lots and it’s negotiating for two others. In one case, it shuttles workers to and from a business to a parking lot that the business owns.
Born in Moscow, Idaho, Wyckoff and his parents moved to Billings, Mont., where he spent most of his childhood. He moved to Portland, where he graduated from high school.
Following in the footsteps of his father, who was a principal architect at LSW Architects, Wyckoff earned an architecture degree from Washington State University.
In 1996, Wyckoff and his wife moved to Vancouver, and within about year, he was working at LSW Architects in Vancouver. He eventually became a principal and then president.
In 2017, at the LSW Architects building, 610 Esther St., the idea of RYD germinated due to parking concerns: The Aria apartment complex was due to be built next door, and construction would take some of LSW’s parking spaces. That was a problem for the architecture firm, considering it was about to hire 30 more employees.
“We were interviewing lots of really talented people from all over the country,” Wyckoff said. “A lot of them are younger and not from the area, and their first comments were, ‘The public transportation here is a little challenging.’ And they didn’t want to own a vehicle. They just wanted to live downtown and walk to the office.”
In 2017, Wyckoff gathered his team into a conference room to discuss the idea of shuttling its employees to the LSW office from a separate parking lot.
But the idea was soon overshadowed.
“We didn’t even have much of a plan,” he said. “It was just a sketchy dream. We went from thinking we could shuttle people to, ‘If we’re having this problem, other people downtown must be having this same problem.’ ”
For the initial brand name, Wyckoff wrote down “Green Umbrella.”
“And that was out of recognition that it’s often wet here. And one of the key things as to why they would want to shuttle is that they don’t want to walk six blocks in the rain. It’s not so much the distance. It’s the convenience of being dry — and green in terms of sustainability. From the beginning it was electric all the way. That’s a given.”
Wyckoff and his team landed on the name RYD, an acronym for Rethink Your Drive. They bought an electric shuttle car and began shuttling employees. But RYD didn’t gain much traction until The Aria’s construction ate up LSW’s parking spaces.
“Initially, we required a little bit of a sales pitch even to our own team because it was new,” Wyckoff said. “Once there was a sense of, ‘Our parking lot is gone,’ then there was this sense of appreciation for the services we were providing.”
The first year
In 2018, RYD’s first year, Wyckoff and a group of business partners invested about $100,000. Costs included the one vehicle, insurance and payroll for one driver.
Within the first day of operating, police pulled the car over. Twice.
“There was no infraction. (Officers) would say, ‘What in the world are you driving?’ It’s street legal and licensed,” Wyckoff said with a laugh. “We sent a picture to the police chief, and it’s my understanding that he sent the picture to the officers saying don’t hassle this poor guy.”
Other problems met RYD: Drivers hadn’t figured out the battery life span, and the car ran out of juice a few times, causing the drivers to push the cars for blocks.
But the electric car caught the eye of passersby, who soon found the idea charming and practical. It wasn’t long before the idea of RYD spread, drawing potential investors looking to solve downtown Vancouver’s parking woes.
But Wyckoff and the RYD team refused all potential investors.
“We’re like the slow-food approach to a startup,” Wyckoff said. “We’re self-funded. We want to give a great experience. Our urgency is to do something that aligns with our vision. Not an investor-driven, ‘Our-deadline-has-to-be-met’-type vision.”
“One of the things about RYD that’s unique is the way it’s structured,” he said. “I believe in it being financially self-sustaining.”
Last year, ZoomInfo, one of the fastest-growing businesses in Vancouver, came knocking on RYD’s door. It’s one of six companies in downtown whose employees RYD now shuttles to and from its headquarters.
Future of RYD
Wyckoff’s vision for RYD is deeply fueled by helping the community — so much so that he’s willing to forgo profit. RYD last year launched an initiative for an arm of the business to earn 501(c)3 status, seeking nonprofit tax breaks and grant opportunities.
“Our aspirations were to do something good for the community,” Wyckoff said.
Once RYD’s app is released, it will allow the company to collect a strong data set and more revenue for expansion. Wyckoff will then explore options to expand RYD to other cities. That could be through a nonprofit lens or maybe a franchise with separate operators.
“We’re still trying to figure it out,” he said.
But one thing is becoming more obvious: Vancouver is an ideal city for the idea of RYD because of its size, the lack of parking options downtown and also the rainy weather that makes a shuttle-type service more convenient.
“I think the scale of Vancouver is important,” Wyckoff said. “We’re at this odd place in the development of our community. Right now, we need parking to support development. You’ve got both city and private developers who don’t want to fund parking structures. That right now is a good dynamic for RYD.”
Over the past 18 months, RYD’s owners invested about $220,000 in the verhicles and the app, Wykoff said.
RYD now employs five people, who work out of a shared office space with another side-business of Wyckoff’s: a creative agency called RIFF Creative. The companies’ warehouse at 906 Harney St. is where the electric cars charge, costing about a dollar per day per vehicle. The workspace also has a pit of purple plastic balls for people to jump into.
RYD, RIFF and also LSW Architects all operate under one executive team, he said, and employees have crossover that harnesses the benefits of each agency. But Wyckoff said he spends maybe a half-day each week focused on strategy and next steps for RYD.
In a year from now, Wyckoff said he sees RYD employing about three more people. He doesn’t want to expand the fleet until 2022, when his next targeted vehicle comes out: The all-electric Volkswagen Buzz.
When he looks further into the future, Wyckoff can see Vancouver supporting a fleet of 24 vehicles, and they would service anyone within a two-mile radius.
“I put RYD in the category of: it’s one of the cool things happening in Vancouver that I think others have a sense of pride about,” said Wyckoff. “And that makes it well-received.”
As the RYD shuttle approached the shared parking lot to drop off Budde, the Slumberkins employee, Budde recalled working in downtown Portland, having to scour for parking and deal with permits and then walk to work.
“It’s been really convenient to know that I have a parking spot and have that consistency every day,” she said.