‘Benefit us all’: all-EV rideshare company aims to respect employees and the planet

Earth Rides founder Raven Hernandez. Photograph: Courtesy Earth Rides

The New Face of Small Business

Raven Hernandez, founder of Earth Rides, wants to boost green technology and workers’ financial health

Raven Hernandez conceived her idea for a green transportation startup as a student at Pepperdine Law School in Malibu, California.

A Nashville native, Hernandez, 26, said the move to Los Angeles opened her eyes to the world of organic food and sustainable clothing. Yet this emerging health and environmental consciousness didn’t sit well with the school’s proximity to Los Angeles international airport, and the dense, gray air she breathed in every day – pollution that’s largely due to all the cars driving around the city.

“Looking at LAX every day from Pepperdine, I thought, ‘What does all this food and clothes even matter if the environment around me is polluted?’” Hernandez said. “That’s where the desire of electrifying rides came about – to make a change that would benefit us all.”

In October 2020, she founded Earth Rides, a ride-hailing app whose entire fleet is electric vehicles from Tesla, Mustang Mach-E, Polestar 2 and several other manufacturers. Since its launch, the company has serviced more than 300,000 passengers in Tennessee and Texas, which Hernandez says has offset 230m grams of carbon in the past year alone. It now has a dozen full-time staff working on the tech and business side and nearly 100 drivers. This year, the company is expanding to California and Arizona.

In addition to combating climate change, Hernandez, whose family immigrated from Panama, also wants to revolutionize what she calls a patriarchal industry with a troubled labor history. Drivers for Earth, unlike for Uber and Lyft, are employees rather than independent contractors. Women or people of color make up 40% of the driver force and 50% of the leadership team. These measures, Hernandez said, are aimed at making EVs more accessible to both groups, since 75% of cars are bought by men.

“We wanted to create a company that not only benefits the Earth but also the people on Earth,” she said.

How did you come up with the idea for Earth?

It’s coupled with a few bad experiences on other ride-sharing platforms, and seeing that drivers weren’t valued. The market has really indicated that autonomous cars are going to allow rideshare to become profitable – what that means is that these companies can’t wait to get drivers out of the driver’s seat. But drivers are real people with real families and bills. We wanted to create a company that has transparency, especially within payouts. A lot of drivers actually don’t know how much they’re making or the margins on rides. It’s quite predatory if you look at it from that standpoint.

The rideshare industry is rife with labor disputes and lawsuits, and is often criticized for exploiting gig workers. What does Earth do differently?

From our perspective, you have to focus on drivers. We do hire our drivers. We also allow people who own their own EVs to drive on our platform. That’s different from other models, which do either one or the other. The challenge here is how do we get more people in the gig economy into EVs. From an equitable standpoint, we look at, “How do we build financial health tools that enable drivers to buy their own EVs?” We don’t think renting in perpetuity makes sense for gig drivers. We also focus on not having extreme surge pricing to ensure equitable pricing for our rides. If you rely on us five days a week, twice a day, to commute to work, you want to be able to budget how much your rides will cost.

We’re looking to disrupt this industry to create better practices across the board that allow for the driver to be put first. There are 16 million Americans who participate in the gig economy. That’s one in three Americans. You got to have fair payouts.

You wanted to bring EVs to Tennessee and the south, where EVs are not as common as in places like California. What are some challenges you’ve faced?

It’s been fun because people are excited to experience EVs for the first time. Tennessee has four car manufacturers that produce EVs there, so it’s leading production. Now we have to lead the buying of them. It’s breaking down typical myths about electrification we’ve seen across the board, which starts with charging. Our drivers are trained and knowledgable about how charging works. We’ve found that once people get in the car, they bombard our drivers with questions about the car. People are excited about this movement. We’re excited to be leading the adoption of green technology through EVs.

There aren’t many Latina women, or women and people of color in general, in the ridesharing and EV industries. How did you find your footing and build connections?

Something I really value coming from the south is learning to be respectful and always saying hi to your neighbors. That’s something I’ve taken into business: regardless of whether you’re in this space, the opportunity to network is vital to any entrepreneur. As a first-generation American immigrant, I’ve had to work harder because I didn’t have any connections in the industry. It’s all the sweeter when we have these wins.

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Claire Wang