Transportation

SoCal Electric Micro-Shuttle Service Taps Brakes

A permitting issue and a lack of charging infrastructure are forcing Tesloop, a small-scale mobility service, to temporarily halt operations in Southern California.

by Rob Nikolewski, The San Diego Union-Tribune / September 26, 2018

(TNS) — Rahul Sonnad, Tesloop’s CEO, cited a number of reasons for the suspension of service — delays in getting a much-needed permit from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), lack of charging infrastructure and a decision to focus more of the company’s attention on a new product called Carmiq.

“We have decided there’s a much bigger opportunity” to develop Carmiq, Sonnad said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

Tesloop has also suspended the rental service it debuted earlier this year that allowed drivers to rent one of the Teslas in the company’s fleet for a flat fee of $49 to drive one way from San Diego to Los Angeles.

The brainchild of Sonnad’s teenage son Haydn, Culver City-based Tesloop began operations in July 2015. The San Diego leg of the company’s shuttle service started in 2017. Tesloop is not affiliated with Tesla.

Though often associated with regulating the state’s investor owned utilities, the CPUC also oversees passenger transportation companies.

Under Tesloop’s business model, as many as four customers can book a shuttle ride in one Tesla. Customers reserve a specific, assigned seat. A smaller seat could be purchased for a lower price.

But under current CPUC rules, Tesloop’s maximum capacity was limited to three paying customers. Tesloop has filed for a permit to allow a fourth passenger but Sonnad said the company is still waiting for a resolution.

“Until we can sell all the seats, it’s very hard to run (the shuttle service) economically,” Sonnad said.

San Diego is home to just two supercharging facilities — one downtown and the other at Qualcomm’s headquarters in Sorrento Valley. Tesloop drivers often rely on the Qualcomm site.

“We’re charging a lot every day” in Sorrento Valley, Sonnad said, “which then crowds out other people, which doesn’t make anybody happy.”

Tesloop officials consider permitting and charging to be short-term issues but “they kind of necessitated that we suspend the service until we resolve” them, Sonnad said. “My guess is next year we will be coming back with a more expanded product that includes one-way rentals and various kinds of shuttle-type services.”

Tesloop is still in business, although with a smaller workforce.

Earlier this year, the company reported a staff largely made up of contract workers that totaled 103 employees, with 65 drivers. Sonnad said the current payroll will be made up of “about 20 people.”

Tesloop will now concentrate on Carmiq, a consumer platform scheduled to launch next month that takes advantage of the data compiled in what is called a “connected car.” Each Tesla, for example, has its own in-car Internet service.

Should a customer create an account with Carmiq, the platform can take the information the vehicle has accumulated and connect the driver to a host of services, including maintenance.

“Let’s say you need to rotate your tires soon,” Sonnad said. “We can see, where does your car usually sit all day and is there a service center nearby … So I can effectively ascertain, here’s a really close service center near your work. Why don’t you schedule an 8:30 appointment because you start working at 9?”

That raises privacy issues but Sonnad said Carmiq’s goal is to “act as an agent for the car owner, protect their privacy and only give out the data that a third party needs.”

Drivers can sign up for Carmiq for free. The company makes money from the platform by taking a commission from the third-party companies the vehicle’s owner uses.

As for the shuttle service, Tesloop is contacting customers and giving refunds to those who booked rides beyond Oct. 1.

“There is this kind of inexorable advancement of electric car technology,” Sonnad said. “This is not a situation where electric mobility doesn’t work … This is a situation where we need to reconfigure both our software, our product offerings and our permitting before we come out with something that we think by the end of next year will be much better.”

©2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.