Earth Rides had 20 employees at the beginning of 2021 and now has 40, she said, and the company is profitable.
Though they don’t have the same national user base as Uber and Lyft, a handful of smaller startups, including Earth Rides, have sought a niche in the ride-hailing realm. Ride Austin was a nonprofit that operated between 2016 and 2020 but shuttered after suspending operations at the outset of the pandemic last year.
Alto launched in Dallas in 2018 with 10 company-owned cars and now serves riders in that city as well as Houston and Fort Worth, Texas, and Los Angeles. Next month, Iizi will begin service in North Carolina.
Competing with the national incumbents requires a marketing plan conducted on a shoestring budget and largely dependent on word-of-mouth, according to Hernandez. For Earth Rides, a string of partnerships with local universities, restaurants, Airbnb hosts, apartment complexes and more have helped ensure a steady stream of riders who both hail rides on demand and schedule them in advance.
“It was, ‘How do we meet people where they’re at? How do we find those people without spending a lot of money on that advertising and marketing,’ ” she said. “We wanted to keep our costs low, so we knew we had to do something different when it came to getting people into the car.”
Earth Rides also works with communities in Nashville to ensure that residents with disabilities who otherwise may not have access to transportation get where they need to go. Whether providing those rides or helping to reduce pollution, Hernandez sees it all as a chance to give back to her hometown.
“There’s kids who are in displaced home situations, and they can’t even utilize the school bus system, so how do they get to school?” she asked. “There’s just so many opportunities in the transportation sector. So I think it’s imperative that I’m here to be an asset.”