By Meda Kessler
Photos courtesy of Alto
Ride-share Alto expands and deftly navigates a bumpy road.
Excited about their rollout to Tarrant County, the brain trust at Alto had been exploring Fort Worth in preparation. Based in Dallas, the new competition for Uber and Lyft has been in operation since January 2019 and was ready to expand.
Will Coleman, CEO and founder of the company, says they started to make changes this February as the pandemic began to spread. Safety and cleanliness, already priorities for Coleman when he started the company, became a hyperfocus. “All of our planning shifted to what we could do: disinfecting cars between every ride, installing HEPA filters.”
When COVID-19 shut down North Texas on a Friday in mid-March, Alto’s customers stopped traveling. “We saw a 75 to 85 percent drop in business,” Coleman says. “We got together as a team that Monday to come up with a new plan that included changing our apps and updating our website. Now we meet virtually every day to talk about not only the business, but how to keep our employees and customers safe.”
On April 15, they began service in Fort Worth with an emphasis on delivery of goods rather than people.
We got a brief look at how it all works after ordering some groceries through one of Alto’s Market partners; after some missteps on our part, the driver graciously called and talked us through our crises. A white SUV featuring a large logo on the side — Alto owns its own fleet to ensure the vehicles remain in top condition — made our delivery vehicle instantly identifiable. Drivers wear Alto-branded clothing, too; their photos and profiles are visible on the app when you schedule.
“All of our decisions start with safety,” says Coleman. “The drivers go through extensive training. We chose the Buick Enclave because it’s highly rated on the safety scale, plus it works for one or multiple passengers, is comfortable and well-appointed,” says Coleman. As part of ramping up cleanliness protocols, he says they’re looking also for a way to retrofit a plexi panel between the front and back seats. And, yes, for those of you who have asked, dogs are welcome.
The Fort Worth connection
Elizabeth Eshelman’s unconventional career includes stints as a professional dog sitter and a band manager. A longtime Fort Worth resident, she helped launch Favor in Tarrant County. When she heard about Alto, she reached out to them for a meeting to learn more. Soon after, without even asking for a resume, they offered her a job, and she pushed for expansion to Fort Worth. She initially joined the company as head of driver strategy; today, she’s working to create partnerships with businesses and restaurants as part of their delivery service. “One of the things I like about being part of a startup is doing things I’ve never done before.”
- Use the app to set up what Alto calls your Vibe: the type of music (you control the volume via the app), no music at all, conversation ground rules.
- There is a bottle of water and an umbrella in the car. If it’s raining, you can take it with you, free of charge.
- There are multiple types of phone chargers and Wi-Fi in every car.
- On your way to a dinner party and need to stop and pick up some wine? Your driver will wait for you as you shop.