Author: Emma Campbell
Imagine a world where drivers make more money with Uber and Lyft, while reducing the environmental impact of driving. That’s the vision of Taxie, a social impact transportation startup that’s changing the way ride-sharing drivers fuel their income.
Taxie, founded in September 2020, buys premium electric vehicles like the Tesla Model S and rents them out to Uber and Lyft drivers. The company also covers insurance, maintenance and charging of the vehicles for a weekly fee of $400.
“We spoke to a lot of Uber drivers in Boston, and we found that all the money they get from driving, they spend it on car payments, insurance, maintenance of the car, gas, all of this and at the end of the day, they don't even earn the minimum wage,” said co-founder and chief marketing officer Lakshmi Amrutha Killada. “We cover charging, maintenance and insurance.”
Also, by renting Teslas through Taxie, ride-share drivers qualify for Uber Black and Lyft Lux, which means drivers are able to make more money per ride, Killada said; all told, Taxie drivers are able to achieve the lowest total cost of operation.
A survey published in 2018 by Ridester, a ride-sharing data analytics company, found that at least half of all Uber drivers earn less than $10 per hour after driving costs were deducted. Ride-sharing additionally has severe negative impacts on the environment: Last year, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that “the average ride-hailing trip produces an estimated 69 percent more emissions than the trips it replaces.”
Killada said that Taxie’s mission embraces these two issues.
“Uber and Lyft drivers aren’t considered employees by either of the companies, so we want to give them a solution where they could make more money rather than just making minimum wage or less than minimum wage,” Killada said. “The second part of our mission is to inject more electric vehicles into ride-sharing, because ride-sharing is one of the biggest contributors to pollution.”
Taxie started as a class project by four MIT students: Gustavo Castillo (now the startup’s CEO), Eesha Khare (now its COO), Haley Ketterer (now chief revenue officer) and Killada. Castillo was the one who initially pitched the idea. His classmates loved it so much that they joined him.
During the class, the team had an opportunity to conduct primary market research for their venture. Killada and Castillo traveled to Boston Logan International Airport and waited at arrivals for ride-sharing drivers to drop off their passengers, then stopped the drivers and asked them questions.
Another tactic involved hailing Ubers over the course of one month and interviewing drivers during their trips. It was on one of these rides that the Taxie team met Michael, Taxie’s first customer.
“Michael was super interested,” Killada said. “The minute we acquired our Tesla, we talked to him, we met him face to face, he invited us for dinner and then we gave the car to him.”
Ride-sharing driver Michael with a Taxie Tesla.
Aside from Michael, the company has five drivers on its waitlist. Taxie recently bought its second Tesla and currently has the funds to acquire five more.
Killada noted that being a social impact startup is crucial to Taxie’s identity. The company aims to uplift women and immigrants: Killada, who is an immigrant herself, said Taxie wants to empower immigrants because they make up a large share of ride-share drivers.
“The transportation industry is a very male-dominated industry,” Killada said. “We have three co-founders who are female, and out of that, two are people of color—me and Eesha are both Indians. Gus is Latinx. For us, being social impact is not just about income inequality or climate change. It’s also about what values we’d like to see as an organization.”