Free bus rides aren’t the only solution to a lack of equity in Kansas City’s transportation options, explained Thomas Murphy.
“Only 18 percent of jobs here in the metro are available via 90-minute commute via public transit,” Murphy, co-founder and CEO of Dart, explained of the startup’s commitment to outfitting under-resourced pockets of the metro with e-bikes.
“There could be kind of a sweet spot in the middle and that’s kind of what we’re trying to hit,” he explained, detailing Dart’s low-cost, green transportation solution — which replaces the back wheel of gently used bikes with a battery-powered, electric motor and recently completed its first prototype.
The service will be available to consumers at either market or income-based rates and was set to launch early this spring — prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented the Dart team from working on its second prototype and conducting the final stages of its market research.
“Once we have that finalized, we are ready to go to market,” said Kyla McAuliffe, co-founder and COO, adding community support for the project — which was born out of the Enactus program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City — will be crucial to its success.
“It may be by appointment, it may be by social distancing, it may be by a lot of cleaning — but we’re looking into how we’re going to be doing that.”
The startup is currently conducting a market survey, which will be crucial in its future plays for funding, McAuliffe and Murphy said.
So far bootstrapped — save for a $1,000 injection as part of the UMKC Regnier Venture Creation Challenge — Dart accepts bike donations on a case-by-case basis and most frequently can utilize gently used, hybrid models and some mountain bikes, Murphy explained.
The startup has also partnered with 816 Bicycle Collective, added McAuliffe.
“They are doing wonderful things for our community as well, to get people bikes who need them. They have already agreed to help us identify the best bikes that they have, that we may be able to outfit,” she said.
Once the service is up and running, Dart customers will also receive a bus pass — a perk of Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas’ zero-fare transit plan and a community improvement request McAuliffe and Murphy said they’ve long advocated on behalf.
“It’s actually very beneficial because our goal is, obviously, to get people where they need to go so they can get to their jobs and increase their upward mobility,” McAuliffe said, noting the city of KCMO has been especially supportive of the project.
“They’re very excited that we are hitting that target area that they are also trying to — positively — change. We’ll be keeping in close contact with them and hopefully moving forward, some [affordable transportation] initiatives.”
Further incubated in the UMKC E-Scholars program, Dart is a social entrepreneurship endeavor that its team hopes to keep growing in Kansas City long after they’ve left the university.
“We have big scalability plans, we have business to business plans already in place … we’re excited,” McAuliffe said.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.