The social network for helpful people, Cell 411, recently announced version five of their app for iOS and Android. The application offers a decentralized ridesharing service, like Uber or Lyft, but doesn’t take a cut off driver’s fee and users can pay with Bitcoin.
Cell 411 launched in August of 2015 as a way to crowdsource help from friends, family, and anyone else in the network who wants to lend a hand for all types of situations. Although specializing in emergencies, users can request assistance for, “Being bullied,” “Broken car,” “General alert,” and “Police interaction.”
“Our platform has been used for over a year by users all over the world to respond to emergency situations and make communities safer, and we are happy to give our users the ability to further improve their lives and neighborhoods by offering transportation to their neighbors.”
- Virgil Vaduva, Cell 411 Founder
Cell 411 app users can now request rides from, or offer rides to, other users in a fully decentralized manner with no central dispatching agency. The platform allows drivers and riders to negotiate payments in whatever currency they choose.
Payment methods accepted through the app include cash, credit cards, silver, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and there is even a button for accepting barter in trade for the driver’s service. “We are excited to add another feature to our platform that is making our users’ lives better,” said Virgil Vaduva, Cell 411’s founder.
Although the company has many competitors, they typically take a cut of the driver’s income and enforce other rules like background checks. Uber drivers complain about fee rate changes and other types of exploitation, to the point where class action lawsuits against the company now seem never-ending.
The company's problems don’t stop there. Taxi drivers around the world are fighting Uber for stealing their fares and cutting into their profits, and taxi unions have often tried to get the service banned in city after city. Lyft and other competitors have even sued Uber over the company’s business tactics.
“Since drivers and riders are not our contractors or employees and we are not involved in the payment process, we are able to give the users the freedom they do not have with Uber and Lyft. We are simply connecting people with each other to facilitate emergency response when needed.”
The official launch party for the new service on Saturday was in the ridesharing battleground of Austin, Texas. Although the app works for anyone around the planet, the event took place at the libertarian hangout Brave New Books, despite the company’s Boulder Colorado headquarters.
The tech hub city of Austin is the capital of Texas and the fourth most populous city in the state. It’s the fastest-growing city in the country by far, already claiming the title of the 11th largest metro area in the nation.
Local restrictions requiring their drivers to submit fingerprints for background checks, prompted Uber and Lyft to pull out of town last May. While the two companies already vet drivers internally, and in some cities such as New York and Houston, they drew the line in Austin.
The move put 10,000 drivers out of work. “We have a gap that we need to fill. We’re trying to help facilitate these drivers getting back to work as quickly as we can,” said Austin mayor Steve Adler .
A flood of startups filled the void overnight, with names like Wingz, GetMe, Fare, Fasten, zTrip, RideAustin, and InstaRyde. Cell 411 jumped at the chance to enter the market, stating that they, “Have no plans to comply with city requirements.” The company says they, “Only connect users with each other and are not involved in any other aspects.”
“We don’t control who signs up to use our platform, how they use it and when, therefore we have no plans to and we lack the ability to comply with Austin’s burdensome regulations; we are not going to fingerprint every single person downloading our app.”
Among the new flood of companies that came to town, all but Arcade City and now Cell 411 have given into the cities’ demands to fingerprint their drivers. Arcade City also uses blockchain technology, requiring riders to first buy their altcoin to use as payments to their drivers.
The rideshare service pegs their cryptocurrency, called ARC, to an adjusting number of ethereum tokens, currently at 100 ARCs to one ETH. There are currently over 41,000 members of the Arcade City Austin request-a-ride facebook page, which acts as a dispatch hub for the system.
Arcade city launched their service within a week of Uber and Lyft’s departure from the city, and received a lot of attention from the press. The service quickly captured many of the recently out-of-work Uber and Lyft drivers.
The City then started cracking down on Arcade City drivers in June, who they tracked down using the company's facebook page. Fines were issued and vehicles were towed for failing to obtain a license. The following month, the City sent four police officers to Arcade City’s listed address, but couldn’t find anyone to talk nor issue fines to.
Cell 411 may be able to avoid the same fate as drivers don’t use a social media website for dispatching. However, it has yet to be seen how the Austin PD will respond, and if they can simply download the app and hail the nearest Cell 411 driver to ticket.
Nonetheless, plenty of reviews online are hailing Cell 411’s new app as a truly decentralized solution, superior to Arcade city. “New and unexpected competition in the form of Cell 411 just totally ate Arcade City’s lunch,” said Ian Freeman of CopBlock.
“Cell 411 is everything Arcade City was supposed to be. It’s decentralized, free, allows the driver to set rates and choose payment types, and has ride-hailing, profiles and ratings. It’s all available NOW. No tokens needed.”
- Ian Freeman, CopBlock