How Ride Tandem is using tech to tackle UK transport poverty

Transport poverty

“Transport poverty is one of the least well understood and most neglected social justice issues across the country at the moment,” says Alex Shapland-Howes, co-founder and CEO of Ride Tandem.

This neglect is what led to Shapland-Howes founding the London-headquartered mobility startup in 2019. A meeting with a group of fathers a little over three years ago, at a place just outside of Rochdale, highlighted a problem facing large swathes of the UK – getting to work when there are no local jobs, public transport is limited and you cannot drive.

Ride Tandem is tackling this problem via its platform that connects existing transportation services – such as taxis, mini-buses, and coaches – with commuters who live in parts of the country typically underserviced by both public and private transportation.

The mobility startup’s app matches passengers with shared vehicles, provides a payment option and integrates with local transport partners.

Earlier this month, Ride Tandem raised £1.75m in seed funding. It’s forged partnerships with employers, including Primark and Byrom Food Solutions, as well as local authorities. Its long-term plan is to extend the commuting service to any workers interested in subsidised transportation.

But for now, the company is focusing on those affected by transport poverty. So far, Ride Tandem says it has created “more than £10m in new earnings” for those who couldn’t get jobs due to transport poverty.

transport poverty Ride Tandem app
Image credit: Ride Tandem

Transport poverty, for those unaware – which according to Shapland-Howes is a concerningly high number of people – refers to households and individuals who struggle to make necessary journeys due to prohibitively expensive and limited transport options.

Shapland-Howes claims that transport poverty is a problem that is largely overlooked, particularly by those in major metropolitan areas. It’s an issue that has largely been flying under the radio because it almost exclusively impacts those in rural and remote areas.

That is not to say transport poverty isn’t to some degree a nationwide, or even global issue. However, comparing the price and availability of buses and trains in a place like London to a town just outside Rochdale shows how deep the problem is.

Transport poverty hits low-income households

In 2019, the UK government commissioned a report on inequality in mobility and access to transportation. It found that approximately 57% of working-age people in the country lived in an area without quick access to jobs – specifically, areas with fewer than 5,000 jobs within a 45-minute journey via public transportation.

The report also found that low-income households spend around 25% of their income on commuting costs, compared to the average of around 13%.

“It is the confluence of low incomes, and a lack of good value, traditional public transport,” Shapland-Howes tells UKTN.

This is again where the disparity between regions becomes so apparent. Analysis conducted by The Guardian in 2019 found that on average, bus fares in England outside of London were four times more expensive than those in the capital.

And that only applies to areas that still have a decent level of public transportation infrastructure, albeit an expensive one.

The general approach to travel in England for anyone living beyond the densely populated high-traffic areas of big cities is that a car is more than a luxury – it’s a necessity.

It’s considered crucial in allowing those in rural, low-income areas to have access to the labour market.

However, the expenses associated with car ownership are often more prohibitive than expensive public transit.

A 2017 study published by the University of Glasgow found a growing phenomenon of ‘forced car ownership’ in deprived parts of the city, which put people in areas poorly serviced by public transportation in a position where they had no choice but to accept the high cost of owning a car just to maintain access to employment.

Transport poverty also has an impact on education, as people in remote areas are largely unable to access quality education. To counter this, Ride Tandem recently expanded its commuting service to a number of students, as part of partnerships with the University of Cambridge and the University of Warwick.

Shapland-Howes says that even in areas with limited but existing transportation services, there could be “paths if you want to get there at 10 in the morning, but your shift starts at six AM or finishes at 10 at night”.

For Ride Tandem, waiting for significant upgrades to non-metropolitan public transit systems would be as frustrating and ultimately futile as waiting for said public transit systems themselves, which is why the company believes – for now at least – that it’s up to innovative tech firms to pick up the slack.