Apr 16, 2024 - News

We tried it: Empower, an upstart rideshare app with plans to serve the Twin Cities

Two screenshots from a smartphone rideshare application. On the left is an image from a pickup screen showing an alert from a rideshare app that a driver is on his way to pick up a rider. The second screen shows an overview of the route through the Washington, D.C. area.

Empower, an Uber/Lyft alternative that has been providing rides in the Washington, D.C., area. Screenshots: Kyle Stokes/Axios.

While traveling last week in Washington, D.C., I tried using Empower, one of the new rideshare apps that says it's coming to the Twin Cities soon.

Driving the news: I wanted a glimpse of the Twin Cities' possible future without Uber and Lyft — which have threatened to leave town over Minneapolis' ordinance raising driver pay.

State of play: More than 200,000 passengers in D.C. have hailed rides through Empower since its launch three years ago.

How it works: Empower makes its money by charging drivers a monthly fee rather than taking a percentage of every ride. Drivers also set their own rate.

Friction point: Empower is operating in D.C. without city authorization, and doesn't plan to apply for a transportation license in Minneapolis. Company leaders argue they only operate a software platform for drivers.

  • Last week, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said it "doesn't make sense" to welcome Empower here if they plan to flout local regulations.

My thought bubble: For the rider, the experience wasn't all that different from calling an Uber or a Lyft.

  • I waited less than five minutes for my driver to pick me up just before rush hour on Friday evening. They charged a base fare of $6, plus 84 cents per mile and 29 cents per minute.
  • After a $5 signup credit, I paid about $20 for a 7.5-mile, 37-minute ride, including a 25% tip. Empower says drivers receive the full fare.
  • One difference I noticed: A button in the app to save your "Favorite Drivers." Empower says riders can request to be matched only with drivers on this list. (I didn't try that function.)

Zoom in: While Uber and Lyft have invested in in-app safety features, especially for women, Empower's were a little more bare-bones. The "safety issues" button calls a phone hotline.

What's next: Minneapolis' ordinance will not take effect until July 1, which gives the city or state lawmakers more time to hammer out a deal that could keep Uber and Lyft in town.

Go deeper: What Minneapolis can learn from Uber and Lyft's year-long hiatus in Austin, Texas

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