Recently, CNET’s Shara Tibken explored the new VW startup Moia, and some other innovative and exciting ride-sharing startups that are trying to change the way that we commute. Here are the details.

Moia – Blurring lines between cars and buses

Superficially, Moia might look like any standard, top-end ride-sharing service. But look closer at this Hanover startup that was launched in July 2018, and you’ll see it’s actually ran by the car manufacturer Volkswagen.

With the world, rightly, becoming ever more environmentally conscious, there has been a steady increase in the demand for comfortable transport with good eco-credentials. Moia operates across Hamburg and Hanover and is setting its sights on moving into the London market shortly. Looking at Moia’s rivals, CleverShuttle is currently operational in six German cities – having just withdrawn from three – and UFODrive is a Luxembourg startup that gives fast access to rented electric vehicles. There are also plenty of apps that allow people to hire scooters and bikes in big cities, like Bird and Uber’s Jump, that are creeping across the globe. 

On the surface, Moia looks a lot like Uber Pool or Lyft Line: 

  • You use an app to order a ride
  • Pickup and drop off are set in the app
  • You get a price and ETA to your phone, plus a confirmed pick up point. 

And you can stop looking for any other similarities because unlike their more famous rivals Moia directly employs their drivers and they come to get you in a specially designed VW electric van. Inside the new style vehicle, you get free WiFi and charging ports for your tech, which would be classed as a luxury in an Uber or Lyft ride. For your comfort, you’ll also get individual, plush seats that have noise-cancelling, wraparound headrests. 

There’s a chance you’ll have up to five other people on board with you, but they’ve added a lot of features to make it feel like you’re alone in your comfort.

VW’s Moia ride-sharing service operates in Hamburg (pictured) and Hanover and is starting trials in London. Shara Tibken/CNET

CleverShuttle – pushing the electric revolution

Moia definitely isn’t out there on their own with using EVs for pooling ride shares. Berlin is host to the US-based Via, which works in partnership with BerlKönig with the city’s public transport operator. There’s also Deutsche Bahn, who operate the German rail system and have recently invested in the startup Clevershuttle who work out Berlin. 

Changing the paradigm in employment in the same way Moia is, Clevershuttle own all of their cars and their drivers are directly employed and get standard benefits like health insurance and paid holidays. The big difference with Moia is that the cars are standard models, such as the electric Nissan Evalia, and some Toyota Mirais that have hydrogen fuel cells.  

Another differentiator is that CleverShuttle comes and picks you up rather than sending you to a pickup point and you’ll go directly to the door of your drop off. With 350 cars and 1,400 drivers, they want to expand but are stifled by German laws for ride-sharing as well as not being able to source cars direct from the automakers. 

CleverShuttle is more comparable to Uber Pool than Moia for in-ride experience – you don’t get the fancy looking ceilings or headrests – but you can rest assured the drivers have all passed government driver standards, including background security checks, and psychological and medical tests. 

  • Every day each car charges an average 3-5 times and covers 500-700km, or 311 to 435 miles, according to Clevershuttle 
  • Operates across Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Leipzig Dusseldorf, and Kiel and has left some markets due to vehicle sourcing issues
  • Expansion is eyed on Austria, Switzerland, Morocco, and Asian cities rather than competitive markets like the US 

From 2020, CleverShuttle will feature on the public transport network’s app, DBNavigator. The app sells tickets for the rail network Deutsche Bahn and passengers will have the choice to book rides through the app. They’ll also be able to add a CleverShuttle ride as part of a train and bus transport package booked on the app. 

A CleverShuttle employee charges one of the company’s ride-share vans in Berlin. Shara Tibken/CNET

Measuring up

Moia expects you to go to them, but no more than 250 meters, or 820 feet. In comparison, CleverShuttle follows the more familiar door-to-door model of ride-hailing. 

VW have a lofty, and somewhat unusual goal for a carmaker, to get one million cars off the road by 2025, and Moia is their way to do that. At the moment, their service has some limitations; not all parts of every city are covered by Moia and there are hours at a time where the systems stop operating completely. Hamburg’s Moia system currently only runs Thursday to Sunday without any stoppage, other days there are a few twilight hours where you won’t get a ride. 

Moia calculates your fare based on some standard parameters, like how far you’ll go and what day and time it is, and the aim is to give a price somewhere between public transport and taxi fees. You get a set price from the app before the car comes, meaning everything is simple and transparent.

It’s a big gamble for VW, and whether it’ll reap benefits isn’t yet clear. The early numbers are promising, with 260,000 customers taking 770,000 rides within the first six months of launching in Hamburg. By November this year more than double the number of intended vans were running in Hamburg, and those 200 will increase to 500 by next year. Another aim for Moia is to break free from their current limited footprint in Hamburg and cover the whole city, a request that will be considered by city officials in 2021.  

They’re also ready to hit London with their concept and other German and international cities are also in Moia sights, but they’re keeping targets close to their chest at this point.