ITHACA, NY – It’s hard to miss the new prominently-displayed red flags flying on many Ithaca cabs recently — and for those who have actually ridden in one, the new tablets found inside stand out too.

These changes mark the roll-out of the next phase for RedRoute, a Cornell-based startup that aims to bring the convenience of the ride-sharing model of services like Uber and Lyft — which remain illegal in upstate New York — to Ithaca and other college towns, while also adding it’s own unique spin on the concept.

RedRoute launched in March with a basic version of its app (available on iPhone), which allows users to hail rides electronically, much like the aforementioned ride-sharing services. Rather than pull from a pool of citizen-drivers like Uber,  RedRoute connects users with one of the cabs from Ithaca Dispatch’s 25-vehicle, 60-driver fleet.

While it doesn’t tap into a larger driver supply for reduced wait times, it does provide many of the features that are familiar to the major ride-hailing services: driver tracking, wait time estimates, and automated payment. While the service is still developing, the ultimate goal is to provide an app that not only helps you get where you want to go, but also helps you figure out where you want to go.

“The real improvement is in the overall ease and reliability and enjoyment of the experience of getting a ride. Instead of calling a phone and waiting and dealing with a dispatcher, then there’s a driver coming and you have no idea who that driver is or when they’re going to get there,” says RedRoute CEO Brian Schiff. “There’s just very little transparency in the way [traditional ride hailing] works, and that made it unreliable. You were just in the dark as a customer.”

The route forward

Getting the user their destination is only one part of the equation, Schiff says. RedRoute’s next step will be to help people quickly figure out which destination they want to go to.

“People spend too much time from when they finish work or school or whatever responsibility… it takes you too long from the instant you become free to the point where you are where you need to be doing what you need to be doing,” he says.

“Right now I might take out my phone and go to a number of different apps, I might text some friends, I might go on group.me or Snapchat… there’s nowhere that does it in a quick efficient way, like ‘Okay, I have free time, I’m trying to decide what I want to do this is where I’m going to go and they’re going to have all the answers.”

RedRoute’s social features, which are planned for a rollout later this fall, will connect users with the people and the places that they care about — much like Facebook, what each user sees will be tailored to their interests.

Growing the business

RedRoute launched in March with a basic version of the service. Through May, when the target student market left, the program was put through its paces and found a solid footing. Ride requests through the app grew steadily during those months and by the end Redroute had captured almost 10 percent of the student taxi market, according to Schiff.

Schiff credits Ithaca Dispatch and its owner John Kadar with helping RedRoute’s quick’s growth.

“They are to credit so much for us even getting to this point… their deep knowledge of the industry, [Kadar’s] willingness to work with us and give us the opportunity and help us through some of the more difficult stages of the process was really critical,” Schiff says.

Using what they learned from those initial months, the RedRoute team rebuilt the software to provide an improved user experience — such as providing instant information for the user about their driver and wait time — and a more stable foundation, while also giving it room to grow.

Based on its initial success, the company attracted funding in the six-figure range, and set up a partnership with the largest taxi service in Syracuse, Suburban Taxi. The service will roll out there later this fall, and plans are being laid in other college towns as well.

Schiff and his co-founders are obviously excited about the new opportunities of a new semester, and Schiff says the team at Ithaca Dispatch, including the drivers, are excited about the new direction.

“We’ve accomplished a lot over the last few months and we checked the boxes on each of the major things we wanted to do… now it’s a matter of executing,” he says.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.