DALLAS — Maya Barnes and Stacy Currington sit in the front seat of a new Buick Enclave, each an example of how an enlightened workplace might change their lives.

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Currington, in the drivers’ seat next to Barnes, used to drive for Uber and Lyft. Now she drives for a Dallas-based ride-hailing startup called Alto. Like so many other Uber drivers, many of whom went on strike for a day this month, Stacy became weary of her relationship with the company. Her income shrank as the number of Uber drivers grew. The costs of running her car, which she had to pay for, took a constant chunk of her income. 

Alto drivers
Alto Chief Customer Officer Aleandra Halbardier talks to driver Stacy Currington
Byron Harris

Alto is different than Uber, the company's chief customer officer Alexandra "Alex" Halbardier said.

“Uber is an ‘eat what you kill’ environment for the driver,” she said. “Our environment is sustainable.” 

With Alto, drivers are paid a guaranteed base income plus incentives: they get health insurance, a predictable work week and paid-for vehicle costs. 

“With us, when you sign up for a certain number of shifts, you know what you will take home," Halbardier said.

That predictability, according to Currington, makes her life as a driver a lot safer. She also knows who her customers will be. 

Alto riders pay a monthly $12.95 membership fee for the service, which allows them access to the Alto app. The app summons an Alto car much like Uber or Lyft. Each ride costs about the same as a mid-level Uber ride, and the start-up hopes to have 75 cars on the street by the end of the year.

Maya Barnes and mentor Chad Houser
Maya Barnes and mentor Chad Houser
Byron Harris

If Alto is a kinder and gentler workplace for drivers, it’s a lifesaver for Maya Barnes. 

Barnes recently became a "fellow" at Ruthie’s, an Addison-based food truck which is a unique combination of free enterprise and philanthropy. You may have seen Ruthie’s baby-blue vehicle parked at Klyde Warren park, serving up its trademark gooey grilled cheese sandwiches. 

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Ruthie’s began as a business eight years ago, but has evolved into a partnership with Café Momentum, a non-profit dinner spot in downtown Dallas that teaches at-risk young people life skills and food service.   

Barnes is an alumna of Café Momentum, which taught her more than culinary skills.

“I learned perseverance,” she said of the year and seven months she spent under the tutelage of Chef Chad Houser. “I learned how to stick with things.”

Ruthie's Food Truck
WFAA

She needs perseverance to get to her new position at Ruthie’s. Its office north of Dallas, where she starts her day, is three cities away from her apartment in Duncanville. Since she doesn’t have a car, that means a 30-minute walk to DART, followed by an hour on public transit, plus another half hour walk. 

“How do we not set her up for failure?” Chef Houser asked.  He’s built Café Momentum as a nurturing environment for his interns, and grown a partnership with Ruthie’s to provide a next step in their development.  

Alto drove into the gap, taking Barnes to and from work for free every day. When two new Ruthie’s fellows take their jobs in a few days, Alto will be helping them too.  

A virtuous circle — all in a car.