When Erwin Germain was ready to leave the busy streets of Paris six years ago, he decided to move to Colorado because he had loved exploring the French Alps as a youth. “I had the opportunity to try new mountains in the United States, so I picked Colorado,” Germain says.
But as he began to explore the Rockies, heading to ski areas and hiking destinations from his new home port of Denver (now a state employee, he has since moved to Summit County, near from Copper Mountain), he noticed a definite gap. In Europe he had often used a popular service called BlaBlaCar, which helps people carpool to various destinations. Both passenger and driver, Germain appreciated the arrangement, sharing the cost of the trip and knowing he was playing a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by sharing trips.
Given Colorado’s green orientation, he decided to develop an app that would offer the same options in that state, helping drivers and passengers pair up. He and his co-founder Justin Kurtz worked on the app, called TreadShare, for three years; it is finally ready to become operational.
Why did it take so long? The founders encountered an unexpected hurdle when they first tried to launch in 2019: Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies informed them that TreadShare would have to pay the fees associated with commercial businesses like Uber and Lyft, in which drivers make money by having people drive. According to Germain, it would have cost over $ 110,000 to bring the company into compliance – and that was just too much for a startup without a business model.
TreadShare drivers won’t make any money; they will simply offer extra seats in their cars and share the cost of gasoline with strangers rather than friends. While TreadShare itself will take a commission, Germain says the founders are trying to reduce that percentage as much as possible, just enough to cover operational expenses.
Seeking help with Colorado’s compliance requirements, Germain has Coalition I-70, who briefed State Representative Julie McCluskie on the predicament faced by TreadShare and two other Colorado rideshare apps, Gondola and Caravan.
Having read the regulations, Caravan Founder Lizzie Templeton had already turned her project into a nonprofit, creating an app that doesn’t involve money transactions. Instead, Caravan functions as a social site where users post their desired destinations and connect to their social media, so they can connect with other people going to the same location; they are free to make financial arrangements offline. While the app has been operational since 2020, Caravan has waited until 2021 to strongly promote the service due to both the pandemic and regulatory snafu.
Gondola offered a similar setup, but although his website says the company plans to open soon, the site doesn’t appear to have been updated for almost a year, when he posted, “We’re sorry for not having started this season due to legal blockers from CO PUC. A new bill to allow the gondola to operate is passing through the Colorado House and Senate and we plan to roll it out for the 20/2021 season. ”
Templeton was originally inspired to set up its rideshare app on long trips to ski resorts on Interstate 70. McCluskie, who lives in Summit County and often travels along I-70, was delighted to consider a possible solution to reduce congestion there.
One Friday night as she was driving home from Denver, she recalls, a snowstorm slowed traffic to a stop. Rep. Perry Will was also trying to get home. McCluskie and Will ended up talking all night as traffic slowly cleared before they could return home, and the two walked out with a renewed sense of urgency to do something about the congestion along the hallway. .
“Since this is such a critical statewide transportation access, I’m very familiar with all the congestion we face, due to traffic, from our amazing ski resorts. and our outdoor recreation opportunities, ”said McCluskie.
Once she heard about the challenges that rideshare services face, McCluskie jumped at the opportunity to work on a bipartisan solution, suggesting new regulations for ridesharing companies that would separate them from business operations like Uber and Lyft. McCluskie and Will became the main co-sponsors of a invoice which was originally introduced in early 2020 but has been stuck until this year due to the pandemic. Under the proposal that was finally enacted in April, drivers are limited to one carpooling trip per day, in addition to the adventures already planned.
McCluskie says state lawmakers worked closely with Uber and Lyft to make sure the focus of the rideshare companies was really different. The result: Rideshare companies are required to register with CDOT, but communicate to users that CDOT does not regulate their services, meaning the state does not monitor vehicles or verify driver history. , as it does with Uber and Lyft. Additionally, the total amount that rideshare drivers collect from passengers on each trip cannot exceed the IRS reimbursement rate because the money represents the cost of the trip, not the profit.
“The end goal is really to reduce traffic and pollution here in Colorado, so we want to connect drivers and passengers going in the same direction,” Germain explains. “It’s the difference with Uber and Lyft. We use cars that are already on the road.
Now that the legislation has been passed, Templeton says Caravan plans to offer suggested rates to drivers; previously he had avoided this to avoid falling under the umbrella of the business enterprise.
“The two main drivers of the passage of this legislation and the two main benefits are the reduction in traffic and congestion on the I-70 corridor and the environmental impacts of reducing greenhouse gases when we withdraw more. vehicles off the road, ”says McCluskie.
While it is difficult to determine the exact environmental impact of the legislation before knowing how many people will be using carpooling apps, Germain points out that while even a few thousand trips made each weekend during the ski season are condensed, the emissions will be reduced. Caravan already had over 100 users before the start of the ski season, and Templeton says the user base has grown in recent weeks.
And there are benefits beyond just helping the environment. When the BlaBlaCar service took off in Europe, Germain notes, users also enjoyed saving money and meeting like-minded people. On his Instagram, TreadShare emphasizes all of these benefits to help persuade people to adopt carpooling.
And TreadShare users will also have the chance to win a 2022-2023 season pass to Arapahoe Basin. According to Sha Miklas, Senior Director of Sustainability and Customer Services, sustainability is key to the ski area; when A-Basin saw a chance to encourage people to get to the mountain in a more sustainable way, it signed up with the app.
“We have the power to save the powder” is one of A-Basin’s sustainability slogans. In addition to offering the chance to win a season pass, the company plans to highlight TreadShare and other ridesharing services as part of its enduring Sunday social media series. Anyone frustrated with overcrowded parking conditions at the ski area can also help by car pooling, Miklas notes.
While TreadShare lists destinations across Colorado, it primarily focuses on ski areas and travel along I-70. Caravan only lists ski resorts as destinations, but Templeton says the company plans to add hikes and other popular destinations, such as Red Rocks, during the summer months.
“I continue to marvel at the innovations coming out of the market that solve all kinds of problems,” says McCluskie. Five years from now, she adds, people might consider Colorado’s adoption of ride-sharing apps like TreadShare and Caravan to be a game-changer in terms of congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.
TreadShare is scheduled to enter the game on Monday, November 29. Find out more here.