Students now have another way of getting to New York and its airports, thanks to the student-run Elmseed Enterprise Fund.
Founded by New Haven resident Antoine Scott in consultation with Elmseed, QCONN Shuttle will begin service Feb. 16 from New Haven to three New York airports and other locations in the city, providing students with a lower-cost alternative to the recently cut-service Metro-North Railroad and other shuttle services. The company will use an independent contractor model developed with Elmseed, in which it will pay drivers who own and operate their vehicles. This will prevent commercial shuttle operations from paying their hired drivers very low amounts, Scott said.
A one-way trip with QCONN from Phelps Gate to JFK International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, or Westchester County Airport will cost $49, Scott said. Red Dot Airport Shuttles and Connecticut Limo priced the same trip at $67 and $68, respectively, though Connecticut Limo currently offers online discounts and savings for round trips. Both companies declined to comment.
“But the best part of our service is that we’ll get you to your destination quicker,” Scott said.
Scott explained that QCONN would have a no-stop policy en-route and a maximum of three stops in New Haven, with pick-up options including Phelps Gate and Union Station.
Nine students interviewed Sunday, who routinely fly out of New York city airports during school breaks, unanimously said they welcomed the new service and would consider switching from the service they currently use.
Richard Lee ’14 said that he usually opts for the cheaper option of taking the Metro-North to Grand Central Terminal and then a bus to JFK International Airport. However, he said that QCONN’s convenience and price makes it a sensible choice.
The one-way fare structure QCONN uses is particularly useful because it is sometimes difficult to know exactly when to buy a return trip, said Mary Liu ‘12. Other more expensive shuttle services offer discounts for round trip purchases, she said, but the uncertainty of the return trip often makes these less convenient.
While QCONN may be a faster and cheaper option, Scott said that the company’s independent contract model — and its emphasis on fair payment — is more important.
Under this system, QCONN will take a certain percentage of fares from qualified drivers operating their own vehicles in exchange for marketing, advertising and a customer stream. Scott said the company had already signed up eight drivers with their own vehicles.
“Our goal is to give the drivers a chance to really make a living for themselves and their families,” he said. “With most ground transport, and not just the cab and shuttle business, they tend to exploit the drivers by paying very little.”
Scott devised the model after working in the taxi industry for eight years. Still, he said he was indebted to Elmseed for helping him come up with the model.
Daniel Friedman ’13 and Noah Sheinbaum ’13, who consulted with Scott and are directors of strategy at Elmseed, said Scott’s initial proposal included direct ownership of vehicles and payment of drivers as employees.
“When we first met Antoine, he was planning a completely different business model,” Friedman said. “We worked through the financials and helped him understand the costs, which were a lot larger than he expected.”
In response, Scott came up with the idea of independent contractors, which Friedman said substantially reduced costs, making the business a viable opportunity.However, Scott said he is still considering applying for a micro-credit loan from Elmseed.
For now, QCONN is focused on marketing, including campaigns in print, social media and “creative advertising.”
“We are going to get dressed up as a bulldog and go around Yale’s campus and hand out material there,” Scott said, adding that he planned to do the same with mascots at Southern Connecticut University, Quinnipiac University, and the University of New Haven.
Even without this marketing, Sheinbaum said the start-up is particularly noteworthy because it helps break the low-paying trend taxi and shuttle industry operators are employing.
“He’s found a great business model to make that work both for his drivers and himself,” Friedman said.
In addition to airport services, QCONN will also operate shuttles to Times Square and Jamaica Station, a major hub of the Long Island Rail Road.