Amber: Hi, I’m Amber Ambrose and this is The BusinessMakers. We’re here today with Lauren Barrash of The Wave, and we’re going to talk about transportation. You weren’t expecting that, were you? Alright, welcome to the show, Lauren. Thank you for joining us.
Lauren: My pleasure.
Amber: So, first of all, we like to ask everyone to give us sort of shortened version: what is The Wave?
Lauren: The easiest way to explain it is The Wave is public transit for cool people. So, it’s kind of morphed over the years into so many different things, but it’s public transit, and it’s private transit, so really we just say call us for all of your transportation and event needs.
Amber: Ok, I like that. Ok, so you kind of answered the transportation question. So, what do you mean by public and private?
Lauren: The business started as a jitney in Houston, which we were the first ones, and we’re actually the only ones of our kind in in Houston, still. Which is,
Amber: So, which I still think a lot of people might need to know what the term jitney means, if you wouldn’t mind (Lauren: Absolutely.) timing out and saying, ‘Ok, what is a jitney?’
Lauren: Ok, so a jitney is a fixed route, fixed rate, circulating shuttle service with the same beginning and end points.
Amber: Gotcha, and you can hop on, hop off at any different (Lauren: Yes.) point within that route?
Lauren: Yes, and now we don’t have routes. The city changed it recently to zones. So our zone is from Sage in the Galleria to BBVA Stadium in East Downtown, and from 20th Street in The Heights to University Blvd in Rice Village. So that’s our zone, which is very big. It’s like a hybrid between a taxi, a limo, an Uber and a public bus.
Amber: Oh my goodness, ok.
Lauren: So it’s all of those things wrapped into one pretty fun vehicle.
Amber: Ok. So if I did want you to come pick me up at my house, how would I work that?
Lauren: So if it’s in that zone, then you just call or app request it, like, 30 or so minutes ahead of time, and we’ll text you when the bus is approaching so you don’t have to wait outside.
Amber: Ok, and so if I live outside the zone, which I do, I’m positive, I would just find a meeting point where you guys were, park there,
Lauren: Right, and Lot H is actually a city lot that’s public and available, and it’s actually beautiful too because it’s on Buffalo Bayou now, and it’s free. So you can leave your car there overnight even.
Amber: So that’s just one facet of your business?
Lauren: Yes (Amber: Ok.). It has morphed into a whole lot more (Amber: Sure.). So, being born and raised here, I guess I just know a lot of people, so people would ask, years ago somebody asked, ‘Hey, can you take me and five of my friends on a holiday lights tour?’ and I thought, why don’t I just do that? So now we have six nights of holiday lights. This is our seventh year to do it. We sell out every time. It’s a fixed rate, people come in groups, it’s fantastic. So we do these lights tours. We do cook-off transportation, we do tons of weddings, we even do lots of bar and bat mitzvahs, we’ve done six-year-old birthday parties, and we also, from that morphed into more. For instance, we have the contract for Greek Fest, and that’s like 23 buses, and they’re big buses, but I do the transportation management for it. We had the Final Four contract for, I think I had 77 buses running for Final Four that were all big buses. They were not our physical buses, but we managed the transportation side of it.
Amber: So you’re taking over almost this, picking up the slack that metro doesn’t have the capacity to take.
Lauren: Yeah. We really fill in the gap between the taxis and the public transit, like that midsize, what do we do with these people. It doesn’t pay for a big bus to run. Plus, in a lot of those areas that we operate, those big buses are too hard to maneuver.
Amber: Especially in Midtown. Yeah, that makes sense.
Lauren: Yeah, especially with the traffic it’s just too hard for them to get around, and ours are a little bit easier to manipulate the streets (Amber: sure. They’re more compact.). Yeah.
Amber: And they’re not a van?
Lauren: No. They’re a bus.
Amber: Ok. Which, there’s a lot of technical things that come with that, that you were talking about before we started the interview (Lauren: Yes.). I’m really interested in hearing about that because it’s something that people don’t think about.
Lauren: Yeah, so I don’t know why it’s always been a pet peeve of mine for people to call them vans; they’re not vans, vans are cheap, or not quite as safe. With the buses, it’s just, especially now, you know, people don’t really want limos anymore either because it’s like, ‘oh, scoot over, scoot over, scoot over.’ It’s just not that fun. And being in a bus is more of an open environment. It kind of encourages conversation more, and more free movement, kind of (Amber: Sure. More social and less intimate.). We do a lot of corporate too. With the buses, and I didn’t know, I was very naïve when I started. I learned a lot in seven and a half years. I’m basically a diesel mechanic.
Amber: And you’re still here. You know, you’ve learned to adapt, which is a lot of what we’re talking about right now, just the different iterations of your company.
Lauren: I didn’t know what I was getting into when I got into it, to be honest. I thought, haha, funny drunk bus on Washington. And so I didn’t raise money to do this.
Amber: Well you guys are doing something really exciting with the Houston food tours.
Lauren: Yeah, those are awesome.
Amber: And what you do is, or what the tours do, is they take the chefs and they go to places where the chefs don’t cook, but it’s where the chefs go eat on their days off.
Lauren: Which is who you want to go eat with, I promise.
Amber: Exactly. And so, where does The Wave fit into all of that?
Lauren: So, (Amber: Obviously, the transportation.) we don’t even use our physical fleet, because there’s 24 guests on the tours, plus the chefs, so in December we had 3 chefs. So, it was like 30 people on the bus, so our buses wouldn’t hold them. So, we, again, manage the transportation. We do a lot of tours now that are with or without The Wave, it doesn’t matter. We do brewery tours, we do winery tours, we’ve done art tours, we’ve done fountain tours, university tours,
Amber: Ok. When you guys first started, I know you had one, you were telling us about the circular route on Washington to pick people up to go to bars, and then drop them off at different places. That changed within the first, what, month and a half (Lauren: Month and a half.)? You were almost a victim of your own PR success. I would love to hear more about that.
Lauren: So the first route that we launched was Washington Wave. And because of that, that’s what got into all the initial PR. So, I still have people calling me, ‘Is this the Washington Wave?’ and I’m like, it’s not just Washington. I have so many others, but we couldn’t get past that.
Amber: So the initial push of media has stuck around for seven and a half years?
Lauren: Yes. Sometimes I hear my parents do it and I’m like, you are not allowed to do it. It’s different when it’s somebody that doesn’t know me, but you’re not allowed to. I mean, my trademark has always been The Wave, always.
Amber: With nothing before it.
Lauren: Nothing before it. I own The Wave in relation to transportation in the United States, but because that was the first street, that’s kind of what stuck with people. Which, I mean, at least we stuck with people, I guess (Amber: Exactly. Exactly.). But some people are fearful of calling because, ‘Oh, I thought you were just Washington.’ I’m like, oh my gosh, we launched beyond Washington after a month and a half of being in business.
Amber: So, don’t call it the Washington Wave. And, they are buses, not vans. Words of wisdom here from Lauren Barrash of The Wave. Thank you for joining us, so much. We appreciate it.
Lauren: Thank you.
Amber: Once again, I’m Amber Ambrose, and you’ve been watching The BusinessMakers. Thanks for joining us.
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