When Joanna McFarland co-founded HopSkipDrive in 2014, she thought she had discovered the perfect low-risk business model – contracting with school districts to provide safe and reliable ridesharing for students.

"I always said this is the most recession-proof business there is because it's schools and schools don't close," McFarland recalls. "But apparently it's not pandemic proof."

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The Texas ride-hailing startup Alto hopes to give tech giants like Uber and Lyft some stiff competition in Southern California with an employee model and a slew of safety measures — from masks to HEPA cabin air filters.

The company launched its app in Los Angeles on Tuesday at a time when the pandemic has hurt ride-hailing services' bottom lines and employee relations remain frayed by a spat over working conditions.

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Less than two weeks ahead of the election, Uber and Lyft are hitting new roadblocks after pouring money into a ballot measure intended to protect their business model.

On Thursday, a California appeals court put that strategy into question when it upheld an earlier ruling that the ride-hailing companies must classify their workers as employees instead of independent contractors. The court ruling won't take effect for 30 days, adding even more pressure on the ride-hailing companies' Proposition 22.

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