UK-based mobility startup RideTandem takes off with €2 million for its social justice mission to tackle transport poverty

With the aim to provide affordance and reliable transport options for people affected by transport poverty, RideTandem is an impact-driven startup that has just secured about €2 million in fresh funding. The funding for this UK-based company was lef by 181 Venture Capital, alongside Conduit Connect, Low Carbon Innovation Fund, several angels, and previous investors Ascension and Seedrs. 

Founded in 2019 by Alex Shapland-Howes  Tatseng Chiam and Huw McLeod, the startup works with taxi, minicab, and coach companies to provide commuter services for employers whose staff would otherwise be unable to work because of the cost, inconvenience, or complete absence of existing public transport options.  RideTandem operates outside of cities and urban centres to reduce the transport gap. 

Shapland-Howes, Chiam, and McLeod met through the impact-focused venture builder programme Zinc, as part of a cohort looking at ways of supporting communities left behind by globalisation and automation. Explaining the genesis of the idea, co-founder and CEO Alex Shapland-Howes said: “We met some fathers in a small town outside Rochdale. Hearing their experience of transport poverty – they were looking for work, there were opportunities just a 15-minute drive away, but they couldn’t drive and there was no viable way to get there by public transport – was mind-blowing.”

Shapland-Howes added: “Many jobs outside cities are only reliably accessible by car or taxi. Half of the lowest-earning 20 per cent don’t own a vehicle – and can’t afford to commute by cab – so rely on public transport. But almost 5,000 bus routes, more than one in four, have been axed since 2012 – and, outside cities and larger towns, services that remain are often prohibitively expensive, infrequent, and unreliable, affecting people’s job prospects and social mobility. Despite recent pledges, we’ve not seen the investment from the Government that would be necessary to solve this across the country, so models like RideTandem’s can play a crucial part in the local transport mix.”

The business model is built with sustainability in mind. Employers subsidise fares as an investment in broadening their talent pool, and some businesses even cover the entire cost by providing free transport as a work perk.  Employers also underwrite the risk of a route not breaking even – as little as £500 per route per month, and, using RideTandem, they get overside over passenger numbers. This can give an early warning of potential staffing issues.

While employers benefit, so do transport providers. Independent local businesses have access to a new reliable revenue stream, with many guaranteeing capacity as a result. RideTandem has built a proprietary dispatch system – including driver and fleet management features and an app for drivers – but also works flexibly with transport partners, developing bespoke integrations with their existing systems, to make working with RideTandem as easy as possible. RideTandem also provides customer service and support for digital ticketing, which many of the transport partners are using for the first time.

Passengers use a mobile app designed to make block-booking easy and provide flexibility about when payments are taken – both features missing from most ride-hailing and other mobility apps but critical for low-income workers. The app also includes live location for vehicle tracking.

Taking on this social justice issue, RideTandem is becoming a crucial part of the social fabric, weaving together new ways to improve the lives of everyone, irrespective of where they live. In doing so, they’ve also seen tangible business success, with revenue growing 10-fold for two consecutive years.  Further, trips on RideTandem services currently create an annualised CO2 offset of 1,000 metric tons versus the same journeys being made by car. The average RideTandem vehicle carries more than 20 passengers. Employers can also purchase carbon credits to offset emissions from their workers’ commutes. This positive environmental impact points to the applicability of RideTandem’s model to a significantly bigger addressable market as the company grows. 

Shapland-Howes explained: “So far we’ve focused on ‘blue-collar’ transport poverty – it’s pretty unusual for a VC-backed business to primarily serve lower-income workers – and that will always be core to our business. But the opportunity to provide our services to a wider range of workers in different geographies, for whom environmental impact is a bigger concern than price or convenience – nudging more affluent workers who typically drive to work onto shared alternatives – is huge.”

Mark Smith, partner at 1818 Venture Capital, said: “Transport poverty is one of the most underappreciated social justice issues, and the RideTandem team has achieved a remarkable impact in such a short time utilising innovative technology. To have done so while building a fully self-sustainable business model and growing substantially even through the pandemic is even more impressive. We look forward to supporting RideTandem as they continue to grow the business and change lives across the UK and beyond.”