Uber, Lyft, other app-based rideshare and delivery companies spent upward of $200 billion convincing voters that they couldn’t (or at least wouldn’t) do business in California if they were made to treat full-time drivers as employees rather than contractors. Their campaign was a success. Earlier this month, voters approved Proposition 22, exempting the tech giants from offering drivers sick leave, insurance, and other benefits. Meanwhile, a new rideshare option is entering the L.A. market—and it’s specifically touting its team of fully employed drivers. Dallas-based company Alto, which calls itself “the safety-first rideshare experience,” launches on December 8 in the L.A. area with a fleet of branded SUVs helmed by trained and vetted uniformed drivers. “We’re excited to showcase the success of our W2 employee-based model in Los Angeles for both riders and drivers with safety and consistency at the core of our rideshare experience,” Alto CEO and founder Will Coleman tells Los Angeles. “We’ve seen first hand how people can benefit from this type of experience in Texas and look forward to bringing our elevated experience to the Los Angeles area.” The catch (which you may have predicted) is that Alto’s rides are pricier than standard Uber and Lyft rides. According to a spokesperson, the cost of an Alto ride lands between Uber’s two premium options, Uber X and Uber Black, at around $2 or $3 more than the Uber X option. The brand hopes its focus on safety will help people justify the additional cost—particularly during a pandemic. All the company’s cars are equipped with plexiglass barriers and HEPA air filters; between rides, the vehicles are sprayed with a “hospital-grade” sanitizing mist that’s reported to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses. While Uber and Lyft had to rush to implement tenuous safety protocols at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Alto was able to launch with safety measures in place. Dallas Morning News referred to the company as “built for a global pandemic.” Another stay-at-home order is taking effect in L.A. County just as the company prepares to launch, but Alto’s leadership hopes the company is still able to do what Uber and Lyft have been unable to do: bring in a profit. “What once used to be a question of a couple of dollars is now a question of safety,” Coleman said of the company’s pricing model. “COVID-19 is forcing rideshare customers to rethink things.” *By Merle Ginsberg, Los Angeles Magazine*

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