With frustrations over driver treatment growing among Uber and Lyft drivers, McLean-based software company Empower sees an opportunity to rival Uber and Lyft by emphasizing better treatment for drivers.
Founded in 2019, Empower’s mission statement focuses on giving drivers more control over pricing and the opportunity to earn higher salaries. Empower allows drivers to set their own rates for rides and receive 100 percent of the fare while paying a subscription fee to the company in return.
Empower CEO Joshua Sear said after speaking with several Uber and Lyft drivers, the consensus was that drivers often could not make a living in the rideshare industry.
“They did not feel like the companies cared about them,” Sear said. “They felt totally voiceless.”
To address these concerns, Sear said Empower holds monthly meetings where drivers can ask questions. The company also hosts driver appreciation events.
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Empower has facilitated nearly 3 million rides in the Washington, D.C., metro area for more than 150,000 riders, according to Sear.
While Empower also operates in New York and North Carolina, Washington, D.C., has been the company’s largest market.
Richard Hunt, a driver in Washington, D.C., has been driving full-time using Empower since April 2021. He switched to Empower after having poor experiences driving with Uber and Lyft for two years.
“[Uber and Lyft] are not good for drivers or riders,” Hunt said. “They are just worried about the dollar … and that’s it.”
For Hunt, it was a “no-brainer” to switch to Empower. He finds Empower is more accommodating to driver complaints, while also allowing him to earn more.
If the company continues to prioritize drivers, it could eventually rival Uber and Lyft, Hunt said.
Kumi Verdier, a driver in Piedmont-Triad, North Carolina, drove for Uber and Lyft for a month before switching to Empower in 2022. While Verdier had a good experience with the other companies, she quickly noticed how new drivers can be taken advantage of.
Verdier found Empower allowed her to build her own business— a stark contrast from Uber and Lyft. If a driver also drives for Uber or Lyft, Empower pays the driver for every referral they make to their Uber and Lyft rides. As a result, Verdier has been giving every rider her business cards and has built her own customer base.
“It’s more of your own business. Even with Uber and Lyft, you’re your own boss, but you’re at their mercy,” Verdier said.
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While Empower does not offer drivers insurance, unlike Uber and Lyft, Verdier emphasized her profits have doubled with Empower.
To grow its rider base, Empower has been trying to appeal to college students by highlighting that its app is an opportunity to save money.
The app also allows riders to limit ride requests to same gender drivers and to “favorite” drivers so they can request them in future rides.
Liam O’Brien, a senior mechanical engineering major, has been using Empower since February after using Uber and Lyft for more than 6 years.
O’Brien often travels to Washington, D.C., and almost exclusively uses Empower due to its consistently cheaper rates.
“The prices are a lot lower and they’re just as accessible so that checks all the boxes,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien has found rides to be $5-20 dollars cheaper with Empower, compared to Uber and Lyft. He was also surprised by the amount and quality of drivers that were available.
Moving forward, Sear hopes to grow Empower to compete with more prominent rideshare companies.
“We try to make sure that we address [the drivers] and we just try to be as transparent as possible,” Sear said. “We want to be a one-stop shop for gig workers to have the support and the services they need to grow and run their own businesses.”