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Bloomington-based Nomad Rides offers student-focused ride sharing service



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Former IU classmates Michael McHugh and Daniel Jones sit on top of a car March 5 on 10th Street. McHugh and Jones started their own company, Nomad Rides, which hires student drivers to give rides to other students. Claire Livingston Buy Photos

Nomad Rides, a Bloomington-based ride sharing service, employs only IU students as its drivers. It acts as a student-focused alternative to services such as Uber and Lyft.

The service was originally created, with the same purpose, as an app called BTown Rides in spring 2018. Then it evolved into Hoosier Rides and now carries the name Nomad Rides. Users pay a $5 flat rate to ride anywhere within the IU campus and a surrounding perimeter. Outside the fixed perimeter, users are charged per minute and mile.

Co-founders and former IU classmates Daniel Jones and Michael McHugh said they created Nomad Rides to allow riders to pay less and drivers to earn more.

Riders use cash or Venmo to pay their drivers directly. Where services such as Uber and Lyft collect commission fees from each ride, Nomad Rides allows drivers to keep 100 percent of the fares, McHugh said.

In its first year, Nomad Rides has been downloaded by about 2,000 users. As the service expands, Jones and McHugh said they hope to continue to develop the app by allowing Android users to download it and introducing advertisements and small in-car vending machines to generate revenue.

A screenshot of the Nomad Rides app shows the set perimeter in which all rides are a flat rate of $5. Outside the green area, riders are charged extra. If a driver is available, a car graphic will track his location similar to how Uber and Lyft show the driver locations. Screenshot Buy Photos

Only IU students are allowed to drive for Nomad Rides. The service currently employs about 70 drivers, and about 20 of those drivers are active weekly, McHugh said.

Sophomore and driver Rachel Rhodes said she initially began driving for Nomad Rides in January 2018 because she quit her job and needed a way to make money on a flexible schedule, since the drivers create their own hours. But the community-based nature of the job quickly became her favorite part.

“I see some of the same people every night or every other night, and they remember my name and I remember their name,” she said. “And we just pick up with the same conversation.”

She said by allowing students to drive students, Nomad Rides gives its drivers a rare opportunity to connect with their IU peers.

“They get to drive for us and break out of their shell socially and meet all these people that they wouldn’t have gotten to meet before,” McHugh said.

Although they are no longer IU students, Jones and McHugh also serve as Nomad Rides drivers. Jones said this is important to develop relationships with the users and to understand what they like and dislike about the app.

“At the end of the night we add all these things we learned and we code it into the app,” he said. “So it’s just constant integration and feedback that you just can’t replace.”

McHugh, Jones and Rhodes said the the student connections between drivers and riders are what set Nomad Rides apart from its larger alternatives.

“I think it really brings the IU student community together,” Rhodes said. “The connections and relationships are rare and nothing like you can get from other apps."

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