Innovation is my monthly column in Madison Magazine covering startups and the entrepreneurial community in Dane County, Wisconsin.
Can a zero-emissions rideshare startup help reimagine transportation in Madison?
Monthly Innovations column, December 2019
I just spent two weeks in Switzerland and France (groan, I know), and one of the highlights of that trip was the interconnected public and private transportation options, or mode share. I could get anywhere I wanted using my smartphone. I could walk out my door and hop on a bus to the train station. I could wave my phone and locate an Uber bicycle near me. I could use my apps to find and pay for a cab, scooter or the subway, sometimes all in the same trip.
It wasn’t that there weren’t any cars. There were plenty. It’s that cars weren’t the automatic first choice. It was almost … un-American.
Back in Madison — where 62% of commuters drove to work alone in their cars in 2017 — Shree Kalluri was already dreaming of creating a different mode share option. The tech entrepreneur and founder of Forte Research Systems has worried about climate change for years, and he purchased an expensive, all-electric Tesla Model S in 2017. But he felt funny driving such an extravagant vehicle and gave it up as soon as the waitlist opened for the slightly more affordable Model 3.
Kalluri spent the next four months without a car, using rideshares instead. And he loved it. He met other like-minded commuters, learning that families spend on average $9,000 a year per car to drive. Rideshare made sense — one vehicle on the beltline instead of four or five — but it was still responsible for a lot of gas-guzzling miles.
Then one frigid night in February 2019, he poured an after-work scotch and listened as Tesla announced that its latest model could finally be purchased for less than $40,000. America’s average new car costs $35,000, so he realized this was a game-changer. Kalluri poured another drink and got out his notebook.
—Maggie Ginsberg is an award-winning freelance writer in Madison, Wisconsin