Get Off the Bus: Austin’s Hitch Offers Car Rides to Houston and Back

Xconomy Texas — 

Austin—In just a handful of years, people with smartphones have flocked in droves to ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to get around town.

Now, an Austin, TX-based startup wants to help travelers take trips out of town. Hitch, which launched its service last month, has adopted the popular ride-sharing model for trips between Houston and Austin. The startup and plans to expand to other Texas cities in a few months, says Kush Singh, Hitch’s CEO.

“We are looking for people who are able to upgrade from Greyhound or Megabus but don’t want to spend $100 one way at least on airlines or Vonlane,” Singh says. Vonlane is a service that ferries passengers between cities, including ones in Texas, on luxury buses.

The startup’s name is a reference to hitchhiking, which has become rare in many parts of the country amid safety concerns. Hitch aims to sustain the practice—or some form of it, at least—by making it more secure and high-tech.

Hitch is among a few other startups—with differing outcomes—trying to offer city-to-city service. New York-based Wheeli was founded in 2011 and organizes and handles payment for students traveling between their hometown and schools they attend—a 21st-century version of the ride boards that were once common on college campuses. But Tesloop, which offered service between Southern California cities and Las Vegas for three years, suspended operations in October, citing regulatory hurdles and a business model pivot.

Unlike Uber and Lyft, Hitch does not provide door-to-door service. Instead, riders are picked up from and dropped off at an “on-the-way” location like a coffee shop at major highway exits. Passengers can then get picked up there or use another form of transportation to reach their final destinations. Right now, Hitch only has one location in each city on the roughly 165-mile route between Houston and Austin. (The most popular route is along Interstate 10 and Texas highway 71.) Singh says there are plans to develop the software to provide a more dynamic listing of locations that correspond to drivers’ locations.

Like many of today’s leading rideshare companies, drivers use their own cars, rather than ones provided by Hitch. A driver must undergo a background check before she can begin transporting passengers, Singh says.

Hitch offers service from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and charges about $25 to $35 a ride. (The fare range will likely expand if Hitch brings the service to more cities.) The startup recommends an hour’s lead time to meeting a driver, though Singh says his team plans to reduce that time to 20 minutes. Hitch takes a 20 percent to 30 percent commission from each ride and about 100 drivers have signed up, he adds.

The startup was founded out of the Longhorn Startup Lab at the University of Texas at Austin. Singh and Hitch CTO Tanuj Girish were connected with Jay Manickam and Matt Chasen, co-founders of Austin shipping startup uShip and both UT graduates. Manickam and Chasen round out Hitch’s group of four co-founders.

So far, Singh says Hitch has raised $525,000 from individual investors such as Carmax founder Austin Ligon, Austin’s Capital Factory, and prize money it received after winning the Longhorn Startup competition. Like many entrepreneurs, Singh says the idea for Hitch came from his own experience: he says he was stuck using existing inter-city bus services “that even at that price point, were abysmal. There had to be something better.”