What is a Transportation Network Company?
These days everyone is talking about Transportation Network Companies. The big names like Uber and Lyft make daily news as a new form of transportation service provider, born in the smartphone era and upending old models for hailing rides. In 2017 it’s now passé to call a cab; millennials and everyone else are pulling out their cellphones and opening proprietary apps instead of calling a dispatcher. The app pairs drivers in private vehicles with riders looking to go places, sidestepping the cost of maintaining a fleet of cabs, limos or busses. The app uses the phone’s GPS to locate the rider, and the rider puts in the address of where they want to go. That information goes out to a network of drivers who sign up to offer rides, and one of them takes the fare. The app shows the rider as the driver approaches, and all payment is taken care of via credit card. No cash changes hands, and both drivers and passengers rate each other on a five star scale.
In a sense this is something new, hailing rides though an app and using GPS and credit card processing services to keep it fast and simple, but really pairing empty seats in private cars with people looking to get from point A to point B is age-old. Sometimes it was done by thumb on the edge of the highway. The only star rating was how clean-cut a hitchhiker looked, and the fare might be lunch, gas money, good conversation or nothing at all. For older people who limited or stopped driving, they were left with personal networks, asking friends, neighbors or family members for rides. TNC are facilitators, the modern thumb or the personal network, making it easier for riders and drivers to find each other. They may be standardizing fares, but in reality the only thing new about TNCs is their form.
And even in form they vary. RideAustin, for example, is a nonprofit TNC in Austin, Texas. They offer rides the same as Uber or Lyft, but riders have the option to round their fare up to the nearest dollar and donate the difference to local charities. Thus far RideAustin has donated more than $250,000, supporting organizations like Austin Habitat for Humanity, the Autism Society and PAWS of Austin, a veterinary services charity. RideAustin is also partnering with a health care collaborative to offer free rides to doctors’ offices, dentists’ appointments and outpatient care for low-income and uninsured residents.
The real strength of Transportation Network Companies’ grows from that middle word: network. TNCs tap into the collective assets of a community, into expertise and opportunity held in common. Uber and Lyft found empty seats and turned them into a business opportunity, but as RideAustin proves TNCs are capable of more. TNCs have the potential to become powerful agents of change. They can unleash collective energy and implement innovative solutions.
That’s what we’ve been doing for years. ITN stands for Independent Transportation Network, and we are the original TNC. We’ve been pairing riders with empty seats in private vehicles for more than two decades, ensuring seniors have access to safe, reliable transportation. From the beginning we understood the importance of our network. And the larger it grows, the more we can do. That’s why we built a nationwide web of affiliates, partners, members, volunteers and paid drivers. And the more barriers we remove to supporting senior mobility, the more solutions will appear. That’s why we invented our ride credit program, Transportation Social Security™, our CarTrade™ program to help older people trade cars they no longer drive for ride credit, and why we built proprietary software now used in a dozen states from Maine to California. Pairing passengers with empty seats is nothing new. TNCs are in the news now, but they started years ago. They started with ITNAmerica.