A ride-sharing service may finally come to Athens, and it won’t be Uber or Lyft.
Liberty Mobility Now is a ride-sharing service with a cellphone application and phone line that also serves as a portal to connect people with other transportation options in the community.
Valerie Lefler, owner and CEO of Lincoln, Nebraska-based Liberty Mobility, said Tuesday that the company is planning to launch its services in Athens in mid-May. She said that with the population size of Athens, Liberty Mobility is looking at employing at least 110 drivers, along with staffing a central office space in Ohio University’s Innovation Center on West State Street in Athens. Lefler also said that Liberty Mobility is considering moving its main headquarters to Athens.
Lefler described Liberty as a “mobility service company” that connects existing transportation options in the community (including public transit and local taxis) and Liberty’s own drivers, with customers. As is the case with popular ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft, neither of which operate in Athens, Liberty drivers will use their own vehicles.
Lefler said that because Liberty has gotten statewide approval to operate in Ohio, Liberty’s drivers can take customers anywhere they want in the state – not just anywhere in Athens County.
Lefler said that her company prioritizes access to customers in rural and smaller urban areas more than the other ride-sharing companies on the market.
“Population health is something that is core to our business values and model and everything we do,” Lefler said. “We know that there’s a lot of need… particularly in the very rural areas (of America).”
Lefler said that Liberty will not be seeking any local approval to operate in the city of Athens through the city of Athens’ Taxi Board despite planning to operate in Athens, and said that the company does not need to do so because of the state approval that it has received.
Lefler said that the part of the “secret sauce” of Liberty is that the drivers can pick up people anywhere in the county, and can further connect them to other transportation options to travel elsewhere in the state for cheaper, such as dropping them off at Athens’ GoBus stops.
Lefler said that Liberty is not as widespread as Uber or Lyft at this point, and it’s younger than both of those companies. In general, Lefler said, the company mostly has focused on rolling out its services to rural communities, with a decent portion of Nebraska and one county in Ohio so far. Liberty Mobile is soon launching in Texas, she said, and also has received a grant to get started in Colorado as well.
By mid-May, Lefler said Liberty Mobility plans to hire an area manager locally to handle the company’s operations, and said that a “transportation coalition meeting” should be scheduled with all of the major transportation outlets and stakeholders in the county by that point as well.
Liberty Mobility Now has two cellphone apps – one for drivers and one for customers – each available at Apple and Android’s app stores.
Anyone can use the service if he or she is 18 or older, or if the rider is younger and accompanied by a parent or guardian.
“We’re really excited to come to the community,” Lefler said. “ We partner with taxis so we are looking to bring together many, many providers and partners and help optimize marketing and support for the existing infrastructure while filling in gaps with our Liberty drivers.”
According to Liberty, people who apply for a position driving or working at a Liberty call center must go through background checks and are subjected to a drug test, with the potential for follow-up tests if requested.