Eva is a ride-share platform cooperative that started in Montréal where it is currently the second largest ride-share application after Uber. It offers an alternative to Uber where members are prioritized — rider members get a cheaper price and driver members get better wages. Eva is based on a social franchise model, which drivers and rider members own the cooperative in each city and operates using a unique blockchain based app.
May 15, 2020
What inspired the development of Eva?
A revolution can’t be started alone, it starts when there are two people or more. When we started Eva it was late 2017/beginning 2018, Raphael was 22 years old and I was 21. Our philosophy is to do everything homemade, so we never hired any lawyer, developer, or public consultant. We didn’t know what we were getting into and we had a false conception that pushed us to continue. This initial naivety is what has forged us over time.
We finally launched in late May 2019. In Montréal we have over 25,000 rider members and 600 driver members. The market is very young which is why we decided to take this avenue, even though Uber is well established the market potential is so huge. A lot of people have never used ride-sharing, the population is growing and there are more young people, we are evolving.
Ride-sharing is very capital intensive, what are your sources for funding?
Just to give you some perspective, there are 36 million people in Canada and 7 million in Quebec, so we are one-fifth of the population but we have one-third of all the cooperatives. The social economy in Quebec is pretty strong, the largest federation of credit unions in North America is based in Quebec.
Desjardins credit union helped us a lot, they were among the first ones to support us in the beginning. The first round of funding to launch less than a year ago was $800,000 and almost half of it was granted by cooperative institutions and technology funds. Due to this social economy network there’s a lot of ways to fund co-ops. If you compare Eva to Uber launching in Montreal 6 years ago, $800,000 is not a lot but it’s better than nothing.
We are now working for a second round, so far so good. It takes time, it took us almost a year to get funding because it’s not like a venture capitalist they don’t receive any reward after that. They just want their money back, some don’t even take interest, they are simply giving money to support us. Unlike traditional venture capital, they also don’t have equity so all of this money by the way is equity free, they don’t have any decisions to make in the co-op, the co-op is fully independent. As a result, the due diligence process is very heavy. I understand that, considering Uber is worldwide and still not profitable after 10 years, you need to do a pretty good job of selling a ride-sharing idea for them to invest in you.
We lower our cut, with ride-sharing models the business is based on the network and brand recognition. Uber receives a 25% commission rate per ride, Lyft 20%, and Eva 15%. Our prices are the same as Uber but we don’t do surge pricing, even at midnight our price is the same. Sometimes we are a little bit higher or lower depending on conditions like the weather or the roads, events, protest, many things can influence pricing.
How do you maintain a competitive price while paying drivers a fair wage?
How are decisions made and are riders, drivers, and support members included?
Every co-op has its own by laws. The cooperative members decide on prices, lost and found procedures, as well as policies like revocation — at what point do we revoke a driver, for what reason, what is the appeal procedure. If the riders want a new feature, they can decide to implement that feature. When we started the first co-op, the first social franchise, we started with a fixed amount of rules because we had to start from somewhere. As long as it adheres to the constitution people are free to do what they want.
All members are included in decisions. In North America there were a lot of co-ops where taxi drivers came together and decided to run their own business with their own laws. However, they neglected the customers, they totally neglected customer service and satisfaction. At no time in the last 80 or 90 years did the taxi industry listen to customers. At the very beginning we debated whether to include riders because most of them will only have the interest of keeping the prices as low as possible while drivers want to have high revenue. The inclusion of riders as members has proved to be beneficial on both ends.
For example, within the co-op when there is a profit, the surplus is shared among the members and they decide how it is shared between them. However, at least 60% of surplus has to be shared among drivers. The ratio is almost 1 driver for 25 riders so the power is proportionally higher in the hands of riders because they are more in numbers.
How do you think the added competition with ride-share platforms can benefit the riders as well as drivers?
Riders can go from one place to another and get more promotions while drivers get better conditions and percentage per ride. Due to our cooperative structure, when you give proper training, members have a higher sense of belonging to the company. They tend to get involved more, invite their friends,the ones who understand the co-op is theirs, they sit on the board, they work for free, they are promoting Eva to Uber customers. That is the perspective of Eva, to get people involved in the process.
How are you shifting from the perspective of drivers being independent contractors with no benefits?
I do believe the way the gig economy is structured is a tragedy for drivers because there’s no social insurance, health insurance, car insurance, and they cover all expenses related to the car, it puts a lot of pressure on them. Drivers spend the day in an individual car with themselves in a cage sometimes working 2-3 jobs with ride-sharing being side revenue. A lot of them are highly educated, most are immigrants, and the some are financially insecure. We are not looking to transfer all of the responsibility and burden on them, that is not the purpose of the co-op. We moved forward with great propositions, all drivers are insured by Eva when they are online, and accidents are completely covered.
Our goal is to balance supply and demand at the lowest cost possible. Drivers have the tools to organize themselves and get collective health insurance. They have a co-op in which they have a choice, there’s a board where they have seats, and resources to fund such projects but it is up to them to have the leadership to do so. Within the co-op in Montréal, there are two general assemblies a year, we sent an official request to the government to be able to have virtual presence within the general assembly because it’s not permitted in Canada due to old laws. We are working things out to be as inclusive as possible but we know there are many barriers like language and not everyone has the privilege to spend the whole afternoon to sit there and talk about politics, we are aware of that.
We created a group of drivers called the Joint Task Force that receive a universal basic income no matter how many rides they have, it is very much an experiment. We recruited a dozen of our best drivers. They are guaranteed $15/hr, if they make more than that they can keep it and if they make less they are guaranteed $15. The whole idea of it is that drivers do a better job and drive more with Eva.
One of the issues that Uber has is that there is a lack of communication with the drivers. How does Eva provide consistent support for the drivers?
We noticed that so we decided to help them and create groups on Facebook, we have a group on Telegram which is similar to WhatsApp. Some have created their own Eva driver groups on Facebook. Most of them use Telegram to exchange and ask questions, we also have groups for drivers that work at the airport. We highly encourage people gathering together, we had a Christmas dinner, we try to have dinners with them every month.
What are the challenges you face while nurturing a ride-share cooperative?
Staying positive that this whole movement will grow sustainably and in a way that will be too big to fail. In the sense of Murphy's Law, everything that can go wrong will go wrong. When we first launched the app we lost thousands of dollars. There’s always obstacles but you can build yourself upon these problems. When the COVID-19 situation started, we asked our members to stay home. It was hard to see the numbers going down but we knew it was the right thing to do.
Comments online can be discouraging as well, some think we're far right apologists and others think we're thoughtless communists. Some drivers say Eva is bullshit, I tell them Eva is what you make out of it, if there is something you want to change then change it.
What are the benefits of nurturing a ride-share cooperative?
It’s awesome to have an app used by thousands of people, being in everyone's pocket is incredibly breathtaking! It's nice when you see all of these groups talking about Eva. I’m always excited when I go to the grocery store and I see Eva car, I’m like “wow,” or I’m walking with friends and I say “oh hey there’s an Eva car passing by!” There’s Eva cars everywhere at the airport. Every person entering Montréal has to go through customs and when they exit the first thing they see is a sign with two arrows for Eva and Uber, you see our logo and that’s very nice actually — that’s cool, that’s seriously cool. This would not have been possible if I was alone, when you are two everything becomes possible. With Raphael, this dream came true.
Montréal Airport ride-share lane
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given yourself when you first started the cooperative?
As entrepreneurs, even if I don't like the term, working for free was a huge mistake we did at the beginning of Eva, up until the last couple of weeks. Noting all the hours and what you do at the end of the day is very important, the first year we didn’t do that but the second year we did, you need to be very well organized.
Don't work for free, your time is valuable, every human being's time is valuable. We shouldn't be modern slaves, we shouldn’t be working for free. Why is it that graduates of Yale get thousands of dollars a day and you should be working for free for your community? It doesn’t make sense unless it is volunteer work and even there I believe that all work must have some form of remuneration.