Facebook ride-hailing group pre-launches new app

Janelle Polcyn

Over 100 people crammed into the basement of Brand New Books on Tuesday night to hear about the new ride-hailing system taking the Austin streets.

What started as a Facebook group connecting riders and drivers in Portsmouth, Vermont has evolved into a network of groups in 28 states and Australia and a new ride-hailing app called Arcade City.

When Uber and Lyft left the city on May 9, members of the ride-hailing community started looking for a replacement. Arcade City is a Facebook group that operates in other cities around the country and recently came to Austin. The group is organized into pods and individuals. Pods are small groups of riders and drivers who regularly work together and make friendships, while individuals post their transportation needs to the parent Facebook group.

“It’s all donation based,” said John Bush, owner of Brave New Books. “I would call it a movement. It’s anarchy in action — people self organizing. The power’s with the biggest group of people, the drivers and the riders. [Christopher David] just happened to capitalize on the idea.”

Bush said he found David, who developed the Arcade City app, through the Bitcoin network. He reached out to David when he found out he was coming to Austin and offered his bookstore as a meeting place.

Danny Sessoms, who hosts a radio program out of the basement of Brand New Books, said he has been following the actions of Arcade City since January in his program.

“[Prop 1 is] about data,” Sessoms said. “They want to know who got in the car, where they are going, what they paid, how long it took and what their race is. If the taxis don’t have to provide that information, why do TNCs [transportation network companies] have to? [Arcade City] found the way to work around it.”

Ashley Frelke was one of the early members of Arcade City in Austin and is one of the first employees to handle the launch of the app set to release later this month. She said Arcade City is a family that looks out for its members.

“We are here to make money as drivers and we are also here as riders to get where we need to go,” Frelke said. “When Uber and Lyft left, the riders were basically stranded, the [drivers] were basically out of income, so Arcade City gave people an option.

While the Facebook group’s origins are a little harder to track because there are different groups for every city, it is known that David started an app in Portsmouth based on the Facebook group after Uber left, but the app couldn’t keep up with the demand. He took the app down but still wanted to prove the Facebook group model could work on a large scale and decided Austin was the perfect place to test the app.

“Our Austin network was 10 [times bigger than] any other city,” David said. “Massive opportunity with Uber and Lyft walking away from their eighth largest market, so it just made business sense. The culture of Austin is the absolute perfect fit for Arcade City, I mean, we are making ridesharing weird.”

The first 50 drivers to pilot the app will meet Thursday night in a new office space to discuss what they want to see in the app.