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Ellis Driving Services is Fargo-Moorhead's newest rideshare alternative

An Uber driver herself, Renee Ellis is quite familiar with the drawbacks of faceless rideshare apps and taxis. Her new business, Ellis Driving Services, is taking aim at that anonymity by offering a passenger-focused travel experience. “My service is that I am more customer-service oriented, whereas Uber, taxis and Lyft are more of a quick pace,” she told The Forum.

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Renee Ellis as seen on Aug. 1, 2022, is the owner and operator of Ellis Driving Services. She likes the term "travel navigator" to describe her services.
Chris Flynn / The Forum
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MOORHEAD — Need a ride? Renee Ellis wants to do the driving.

Ellis, the solopreneur behind Ellis Driving Services , started her small business in May. Also an Uber driver, Ellis Driving Services is a business she had wanted to start “for quite a while,” she told The Forum.

Ellis was prompted to strike out on her own when she came to realize she had numerous routine passengers while driving for Uber. Even riders suggested that Ellis go her own way, with some asking for her personal phone number to book future rides.

Since then, there has been “nothing but positive” feedback from customers over the last three months. “I feel like the more I get myself out there, the more I let people know that this service is available to them, the more receptive they are,” Ellis said.

‘Saving grace’

Arelle Kaufman unfortunately found herself in need of Ellis’s services a few months ago.

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Kaufman, who works early-morning hours at a warehouse, had her car stolen. The theft left her family and children with one vehicle, and her schedule meant leaving the car at home.

Like most others, Kaufman turned to rideshare services like Uber and Lyft. Results were mixed, however, and she often struggled to consistently find a ride. That was, until she was matched for a ride with Ellis. “I had to try to find a way to work,” Kaufman recounted. “I work very early in the morning and honestly, even with Uber, she was one of the very few that was ever available.”

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Renee Ellis always made sure the fine details were just right, former passenger Arelle Kaufman said. Ellis, seen here Monday, Aug. 1, 2022 in downtown Fargo, would always have the door open and the temperature set just right.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

At first, Ellis didn’t mention that she had launched her own venture. Eventually though, Kaufman got her card, bringing an end to waiting up to an hour to have her ride requests picked up by Uber and Lyft drivers.

All told, Kaufman rode with Ellis for two months before her car was replaced. She was able to schedule rides on a weekly basis, another option rideshare apps didn’t have. Ellis was even attune to the minor details, like always having the door open or setting the car’s temperature at just the right spot. “She made a colossal difference,” Kaufman raved. “I don’t think I could have done nearly as good of a job if I wasn’t able to get to work on time.”

Ellis is “extremely reliable” as well as an “above the board professional,” Kaufman said, adding that Ellis also prioritized safety. It’s why she still recommends Ellis Driving Services on a daily basis to her co-workers and anyone else who needs a lift. “She was definitely a saving grace,” Kaufman said.

From airport runs to winery tours

An apt slogan for Ellis Driving Services might be “Have car, will travel.” That’s because wherever you want to go, Ellis will gladly take you there.

Her bread-and-butter includes daily trips like the ones Kaufman made to and from work. Kaufman’s experience with rideshare apps in the metro area isn’t out of the ordinary, Ellis said, which is where she comes in. “Having daily transportation who they know is reliable and who will guarantee that they’ll pick them up is important to them,” Ellis said.

Ellis also offers trips to and from Hector International Airport. Those trips are particularly beneficial in the winter when passengers can leave the cars in warm garages at home rather than in the airport’s uncovered lots. She’ll even budget extra time for trips back home for forgotten passports, headphones or neck pillows.

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For concert-goers heading to venues near and far, Ellis Driving Services also offers an alternative transportation option. Instead of packing into buses, Ellis will comfortably drive up to seven people to and from a concert.

Ellis also offers tours of area breweries, distilleries and wineries. She based her tours on the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Crafts and Drafts Pass and the Red River Wine Trek . “While you’re doing that, you’re also being safe because we’re driving you,” she said. “You can still enjoy yourself with your friends.”

The bottom line, though, is that Ellis is willing to go wherever anyone needs her to, having gone as far as Grand Forks and the Twin Cities for past rides. “We’re just trying to be available for transport needs for people,” she remarked.

For in-town trips, Ellis said she tries to keep her prices as competitive as possible with rideshare platforms. Quotes for out-of-town trips vary based on distance.

A driving fanatic

Ellis was raised in northern Arizona on land owned by the Navajo Nation. Growing up on the nation’s largest reservation, driving was not just a fun activity, it was a necessity.

Everything was “at a distance” from where she lived, Ellis said. A convenience store, gas station, laundromat and post office? 15 miles away. A trip to the small, local grocery store took 45 minutes one way. Going to a big box retailer like Walmart took two hours. “You had to have a want to drive to these places and I’ve always loved to drive,” she recalled.

Having fostered her love of driving, Ellis takes a new route every time she visits Arizona in the summer. “For me, driving has always been fun and I really do enjoy driving,” she commented. “I would much rather drive anywhere than to fly.”

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Renee Ellis fostered her love of driving while growing up on the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona. She's transitioned that affinity into Ellis Driving Services, which she is offering as a rideshare alternative in the metro area and beyond.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

That passion especially comes through when she meets people who are new to the Fargo area. She relishes her role as a local ambassador of sorts, answering rider questions like Is it really this flat here? or How cold does it get here?

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“It’s always very surprising when I bring them information that they had no idea about, which is always really really fun for me,” Ellis said. “I love meeting people that are brand new to Fargo. It’s always fun to tell them about all of the cool things Fargo has to offer, all the cool things that Moorhead has and all the little surrounding areas.”

Rolling along

Ellis knows first hand how anonymous rideshare services can be. For that reason, she has sought to offer a friendly environment for riders. “My service is that I am more customer-service oriented, whereas Uber, taxis and Lyft are more of a quick pace,” she explained.

That is a comfort for female passengers. Dating back to 2017, Uber and Lyft have reported over 7,000 sexual assault claims , making ride-sharing a dangerous proposition for both female drivers and passengers.

Ellis herself recalled several occasions where her female passengers were relieved to discover they’d been matched with a fellow woman. It’s another reason why building an ongoing driver-passenger relationship is important. “I definitely feel like there is a need to cater to women who want to feel safe and be able to use the service that they know they won’t get harassed at or feel unsafe,” she said.

Additionally, Ellis Driving Services is hoping to become a greener company with the purchase of a hybrid or electric vehicle . As a woman- and minority-owned business, she is also seeking grants, loans, investments and scholarships available to her.

She has plenty of hurdles left to clear. Until then, she is going to keep it rolling and learning new things every day. “I will keep trucking along,” she said.

Thomas Evanella is a reporter for The Forum. He's worked for The Forum for over three years, primarily reporting on business news. He's also the host of the InForum Business Beat podcast, which can be streamed at InForum.com/podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Reach him at tevanella@forumcomm.com or by calling 701-241-5518. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasEvanella.
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