BMW’s ReachNow just expanded the test of its new ride-hailing service, aptly named Ride, opening it to all of its Seattle members, so as a curious, intrepid reporter looking for an excuse to get the company to pay for my ride to work, I decided to try it out.
Less than an hour after the announcement I dove in. The service works through a new app, ReachNow+. Technically still in beta, the new app isn’t yet available in the Google Play Store or iOS App Store, but the company has instructions for downloading and installing ReachNow+ on this page.
Once I opened the app I had the option of selecting ReachNow’s traditional service — reserving a car to drive myself — or going into the Ride app. The experience was a little choppy, and I had to start over a couple of times, but that’s not a cause for alarm given that it just entered beta testing.
Eventually, ReachNow plans to offer just one app, with the ability to quickly decide to pick up a car to drive yourself or get a ride from someone else.
Even though it was my first time using ReachNow Ride, the experience felt pretty familiar. The interface looked a lot like Uber, Lyft and others as I put in my pickup and drop-off address. Right now, Ride doesn’t pick up people in all parts of Seattle, though it does allow drop off anywhere in the city limits or the airport. Eventually, the plan is to include all of Seattle.
While booking the ride I was given the option of setting the temperature in the car and a preferred radio station. My selections: KUOW and a cool 68 degrees. All of this is possible because of the standardized ReachNow fleet. I also had the option of checking a “Do Not Disturb” button in case I didn’t want to be talked to during the ride. I originally selected it, but the silence was too much, and I eventually engaged with the driver.
Once I chose my route, a very professional looking photo of my driver popped up, along with a picture of the car I was to ride in — BMW 330i xDrive — and an option to call the driver. The driver arrived right in the time frame given, six minutes, and it was easy to pick out the car because of the ReachNow branding.
When I jumped in the car, I was greeted by a bag of chocolates, a couple bottles of Voss water, and an array of phone chargers, all features standardized within the ReachNow Ride experience. My well-dressed driver had been on the job for about two months and drove full-time for the service. ReachNow drivers are paid hourly, in addition to incremental compensation for trips, and the driver indicated that there are opportunities for overtime, as well. When we got to the destination, the driver offered to come around and open my door, a professional touch that I appreciated but didn’t feel the need to take advantage of.
UPDATE: I used the service again this evening to get back home from the office. Things didn’t go nearly as well this time. My ride took approximately 30 minutes to pick me up because, according to the driver, the GPS offered directions toward destination, not the pick up location. As I followed the little car icon on the map, waiting for the driver to arrive, I watched on in horror as the car started heading away from my location and toward my house. I made use of the call button on the screen to inform the driver of the mistake and eventually he got to me.
The company said this is a known issue that the tech team is working through as part of the beta process. ReachNow couldn’t say how often such a mix-up happens, but the company says it is not something that occurs often.
ReachNow has come a long way since it officially launched in April 2016. It seems like every few months it hits a new milestone, whether that is expanding its home area in Seattle, adding new cities, working with the city to install electric vehicle charging stations in Seattle, or branching out into all new service areas with programs like Ride.
The bones of Ride felt like a slightly more customer-friendly version of Uber or Lyft, but the concept behind it is radically different. The BMWs from the Ride program are part of the same fleet of cars that people can pick up and drive around town on their own. So that means if a Ride driver leaves and logs off at some point, a member can pick up the car and drive away.
ReachNow is positioning itself as an ecosystem where people can drive and be driven in the same cars. That makes it a premium alternative to Uber and Lyft on one end, and car2go on the other. Despite the extra perks, the price was actually less than an estimation from UberX for the same ride, and right in the middle of the range given by Lyft. However, based on the language of the receipt — “Ride Launch Pilot: Discounted trip fare” — it seems like the prices are poised to rise in the future.
ReachNow’s service includes a per trip base fare of $1.00, a per-minute rate of $0.30 and per mile rate of $1.80. Also tacked onto my ride were a $1 “Shared Asset Fee,” and two city of Seattle fees totaling 24 cents. On that basis, Ride’s prices are marginally higher than the standard rates from Uber and Lyft — both of which charge a base fare of $1.35, a per minute rate of $0.24, a per mile rate of $1.35 in Seattle and $1.65 booking fee.
The more apt price comparison will come later, when ReachNow has fully rolled out the service and decided on the final price. ReachNow decided to eschew surge pricing during high-traffic periods, and that could have a big effect on prices. So it’s possible that a ride like mine — at 11 a.m. on a weekday, to and from a low traffic area — might cost more, but what about a ride at peak commuting hours or a trip home from the bars on Capitol Hill on a Friday night?
On the flip side, will there be enough ReachNow drivers to deliver a quick pick up when the service is in greater demand?
In looking back at Ride, I was impressed with the professional look and feel of the service. I wonder, was this experience necessarily safer, smoother or better? I don’t know. But the quality of the branded car, and some of the standard perks, made it feel less like I was picking up a ride from a stranger and more like I was taking a high-end cab or town car to work.