California startup organizing more charter bus trips to Philly for papal visit

RYDE, a California startup company founded less than a year ago, announced last week that it will provide shuttle transportation services from nearby cities to Philadelphia for the papal mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday, Sept. 27.

The transportation company specializes in big, one-off events like music festivals, but co-founder Bob Aude admits they’ve never tackled anything quite as big as the papal visit. The company acts as a middleman of sorts between inchoate groups of individuals looking to attend a specific event and charter bus companies. RYDE reserves a charter bus, then looks for passengers to fill it.

RYDE is organizing pick-ups in cities up and down the East Coast, from Durham, North Carolina to Boston.

The company says demand has been strong in Northern Virginia, Baltimore, Wilmington, Long Island and Newark, New Jersey. Demand is high in Boston, too, but there the company faces a different challenge: finding available charters. It appears as though church groups and other pilgrims have already hired most of Boston’s charter bus fleet. The few untaken buses that remain are waiting — at least for now — to see how high a price they might be able to command.

Aude added that ticket sales in Pennsylvania have been slow so far.

RYDE says that one of its buses takes 30 cars off the road, touting the fact for reducing carbon emissions and helping the environment. While that message jives well with Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, Philadelphians may appreciate 30 fewer minivans hunting for parking and attempting to park in Broad Street’s median for the first time.

RYDE’s slogan is “Y drive when U can RYDE,” which is probably enough to make the sick-of-all-things-millennial set puke. But it succinctly sums up the company’s business model (and without all those filler letters like W, H, Y, or O!). RYDE targets would-be attendees of large events that live a few hours away. Rather than paying for gas, tolls and parking (not to mention long rides home while tired or inebriated), it makes sense to pay a bit more for a seat on a charter bus, says Aude.

Instead of selecting departure and arrival locations, as with most transportation services, RYDE users first pick the event they want to attend. From there, they are presented with different departure options. If seats sell fast, RYDE organizes for additional charter buses, but if not enough sell to cover costs, the company may end up cancelling the bus. Aude said the minimum number of passengers was usually 30, which he called “crowd tilt.” The co-founder said the company tries to mitigate the risk of canceled rides by occasionally adding a stop to another bus and by communicating low demand to passengers in advance.

Before anyone flips out over the thought of transportation logistics for the papal visit being entrusted to a brand new startup with a quirky business model that doesn’t always guarantee the trip will happen, two things bear notice. One, RYDE expects to carry “less than one thousand” passengers, said Aude. And, two, the company says it is coordinating closely with GO GROUND, the transportation logistics company managing all charter buses for the papal visit.

Aude says he’s reached out to 200 churches about using RYDE. Many church groups have reserved their own charter or school buses to make the trip. But for others, filling a 50 or 60-seat bus is daunting. For groups of ten or twelve, RYDE might make more financial sense, with seats ranging between $69 – $139 right now, depending on location (the farther the trip, the more expensive the tickets).

Can such a millennial-focused company really be a hit with an older and more cautious Catholic crowd? Aude, himself a Catholic, is praying that it will.

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