Quite a number of companies are nowadays trying to find solutions to the curse of traffic jams in US cities. SPLT has set out to tackle urban mobility from a different angle than its competitors, with a car-pooling service for big company employees.

SPLT rethinks US urban mobility from a company angle

According to a new survey from the Wakefield Market Research agency, US citizens spend 45 minutes and $10 a day on average to commute to and from work. It comes as no surprise to learn that the commuters polled generally prefer to drive, 77% of the respondents reporting that they use their own private vehicle, while 21% choose the bus, 9% take the subway and 8% ride a train. Now SPLT, a recent arrival in Silicon Valley, has come up with an employee car-pooling platform targeted at large companies and organisations – i.e. those with over one thousand employees. The service is intended to solve the thorny question of how best to commute between home and work.

How the service works is that a company will provide SPLT (a name based on the notion of ‘splitting fares’) with an anonymised database of its staff and their addresses, enabling the startup to map out employees’ homes and design the most efficient journeys. The company can then offer the car-pooling service to its staff. Although there is nothing very new about the idea of approaching companies directly to offer a car-pooling service – for example French startups Trajet à la carte and Covivo are already doing so and France's national state-owned railway company SNCF is also developing a car-pooling solution in tandem with car-pooling operator Ecolutis – SPLT is trying to break into a US market which has shown some reluctance to use this kind of service. That being so, the Detroit, Michigan-founded startup is working hard to stand out from the competition, using such elements as gamification principles.

Creating synergies with company HR policy

Once the scheme has been rolled out in the company, participating staff are then rewarded in various different ways, with car-share drivers becoming eligible for a pay bonus, a reserved parking space close to the entrance, extra days off, a monthly petrol allowance, and so on. Meanwhile the passengers save money and time and get to forge links with some of their co-workers. And what is in it for the company? An improvement in the Employee Experience through the creation of a community outside the workplace that encourages interaction between staff from different departments, which in turn can help to improve overall productivity.

L'application mobile de SPLT

A shift from B2C to B2B the key to success on the US car-pooling market

The fact is that while car-pooling has become standard practice in Europe, especially in France with firms such as BlablaCar for long-distance journeys and Sharette for short daily trips, in the United States the car-pooling culture has not really caught on and hardly at all in the automobile capital Detroit. “Americans are very attached to their cars, and they can’t imagine sharing a journey with another driver. They wouldn’t trust him or her,” explains SPLT Head of Business Development Sebastian Steinbach. The fledgling company, which followed programmes at the California-based CleanTechOpen accelerator and the TechStars Mobility accelerator in Detroit, decided to rethink its business model, targeting large organisations and offering to help them manage their employees’ mobility. With this B2B approach, SPLT invites users to share their commute with other company staff, thus overcoming the mistrust which people tend to feel when invited to share a ride with total strangers. Today SPLT describes its niche as ‟Helping companies to reduce the number of cars on the roads”.

Silicon Valley, fertile ground for solving traffic congestion problems

Having set up its business in Detroit in 2014, SPLT has just launched in San Francisco, where it sees good growth opportunities, firstly because San Francisco is the second most affected city in the United States when it comes to traffic congestion and secondly because ‟Silicon Valley is actively looking for solutions to solve its congestion problems. The legislation favours alternative modes of transport and people in the region tend to be more open-minded, more used to the concept of sharing, given that Uber and Airbnb have opened the way to firms working in the sharing economy,” Sebastian Steinbach explains. In fact the infrastructure around the San Francisco area already favours car-pooling, with High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes reserved for cars transporting two or more occupants during peak congestion hours.

San Francisco, 2e ville des États-Unis ayant le plus de problèmes avec les embouteillages

Looking towards the future, Sebastian Steinbach predicts: ‟I think that in the long term our offering will be integrated into navigation apps such as Swiftly. There’s no single solution to the challenge of urban mobility, and the key to success will be a joint effort from all the various players”. This is a vision which fits well with the growing trend towards data-sharing between those involved in the mobility business.

By Lucie Jan
Strategy & Innovation Analyst