SMU senior engineering major Katelyn Dunn said she feels safe and in control when using her new preferred rideshare app: Alto. The new rideshare app puts the rider more in control of the experience, with a focus on comfort and safety.
“The Alto app lets you literally have control over the whole car like the air conditioning and music. It’s really nice knowing that all the drivers have background checks,” said Dunn, who said she uses the app when going out with friends in Uptown.
Dallas-based Alto was launched by CEO Will Coleman and Chief Customer Officer Alexandra Halbardier in 2018. The owners say that their main goal was a focus on a comfortable experience, and an emphasis on safety for women in particular. Alto differs from major rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft in that they have employees instead of independent contractors, Halbardier said. Alto employees go through a rigorous hiring process that includes two different background checks, an in-person interview, and three days of in-car and desk training, including a defensive driving course.
Alto also offers a membership option for a $12.95 monthly fee. The membership gives riders perks like special rates and better access during peak times.
“We’re filling needs for safety, consistency and a level of quality and hospitality that doesn’t exist today,” said Halbardier.
Alto is well-positioned to enter the market due to the safety concerns some people have about ridesharing services. In a recent study from The National Council for Home Safety, 23 percent of women surveyed said they’ve had to report an uncomfortable encounter with an Uber driver, while 15 percent of women said the same thing about Lyft.
Uber and Lyft both offer rideshare services for a fee but only require one background check for their drivers. The companies also have emergency features built into their apps. Uber riders can use RideCheck which detects if a trip goes unusually off-course, or if a possible crash has occurred.
SMU senior marketing major Lauren McCarthy said she frequently uses Uber when going out with friends in Dallas but keeps her guard up.
“I really enjoy using Uber and usually feel safe in the ride, but I also try never to get too comfortable. I’ve had drivers make weird comments, but nothing has ever happened,” said McCarthy.
But while Alto is trying to make a dent in the rideshare market, Uber and Lyft still dominate the business. According to websites like ridester.com, rideshareapps.com, and others, Uber and Lyft are the top two rideshare apps in the United States. The two companies also provide 24-hour service, while Alto currently offers service from 4:30 a.m. to 12 a.m. on weekdays and until 1 a.m. on weekends
Uber plans to move its headquarters to Dallas next year.
SMU junior management major Olivia Gruber said she prefers to use Uber and does not believe she needs the additional features that Alto offers.
“I use uber all the time and never have had a safety issue. I think it’s quick, cheap and efficient,” said Gruber.
Unlike Uber and Lyft, which require owners to drive their own vehicles, Alto uses white SUVs with the company logo for easy identification. All of the vehicles have technology that pulls live data from the rides that detect harsh braking and turning, fast acceleration, and distracted driving. The telematics device also functions as a non-audio security camera where staff is consistently checking around the clock.
Alto drivers have an incentive to keep the rider safe since all the data pulled from the telematic device is calculated into a safety score that affects driver pay, said Halbardier.
Alto allows its customers to ride as a guest or with a membership. The $12.95 membership includes no booking fees, special access to members-only ride times, exclusive invites to member events, and other perks. There is also a direct line to the always-on support team. The company also allows riders to pay as you go, like Uber and Lyft, but it can sometimes be tough to get a car during peak demand hours.
The monthly membership price may seem high, but with a membership, the rides are priced more like an Uber Select. Alto is replacing the idea of a corporate car at a more convenient and affordable price, said Halbardier.
Since the vehicles are all identical and clearly marked with the company logo, it’s easy to ensure that you are getting in the right car.
An SMU senior biology major, who did not want her name used because of a negative experience she had in a rideshare, said she would feel more comfortable using a service with marked cars. The student uses rideshare services to go out drinking with friends around campus and Dallas. She remembers feeling trapped and helpless last year in a Lyft ride gone wrong.
On her way home from a night of drinking, the student said that the driver kept her locked in the car while refusing to follow the route. He remained parked while she pleaded with him to follow the directions. She was not sober enough to get out of the car, so after screaming at him, he finally followed the directions and took her back to her apartment on Rosedale Ave near campus.
“He told me we were going to take a shortcut and I started yelling at him, saying that I didn’t want to take the shortcut, I just wanted to go home,” she said.
The student said the driver then waited outside her apartment building for about 10 minutes after he dropped her off. Finally, her brother had to go out and tell the man to leave.
The student said she is open to the idea of trying out a safer option like Alto.
“I am still hesitant on the idea of getting into rideshares alone, but the idea of Alto sounds really cool, and I will definitely try it out with a friend,” she said.
Alto can pick riders up in any of the following locations: Oak Cliff, Lakewood, The Park Cities, Uptown, Deep Ellum, North Texas, Addison, Design District, Preston Hollow, and both Love Field and DFW. There are plans to expand to Plano and Frisco within the next few months. And hopefully a lot more over the next year.
Alto is currently offering a 15 percent off student discount on all Alto rides, or you can type in the promo code SMULOOK, which will give any new Alto riders $10 off their first three rides.