It sounds like ridesharing startup SideCar is facing another regulatory challenge.
According to a company blog post, the Philadelphia Parking Authority cited three SideCar drivers and impounded their cars in an “orchestrated sting operation.” The citation supposedly describes SideCar as an “unauthorized service provider,” which the company says is inaccurate:
SideCar is a technology platform that enables peer-to-peer ridesharing. Our smartphone app instantly matches people who need a ride with regular, everyday drivers who are willing to give them one. With SideCar, payment is voluntary and you pay what you want. SideCar is safe. We run more checks on our drivers than taxi or limo services. Plus, all matched rides are recorded and GPS tracked for safety.
The company says that it chose Philadelphia as its first East Coast city for “its reputation as a center of innovation and its forward-looking government.” As for how SideCar is responding, the blog post says, “As we sort things out with regulators, SideCar will continue to operate in Philadelphia so its citizens can continue to experience the benefits and joys of rideshare.” Still, you have to imagine this is going to create a pretty big cloud over its Philadelphia operations unless it’s resolved.
Ridesharing startups in general have been facing regulatory challenges in a number of markets, and SideCar is one of several services that’s being evaluated by the California Public Utilities Commission.
I’ve reached out to the PPA for comment and will update if I hear back.
Update: I just got off the phone with Marty O’Rourke, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Parking Authority, who argued that it’s a pretty straightforward situation — these drivers aren’t licensed to be operating as taxis.
“They’re passing themselves off as taxis and they’re not,” he said. “It’s clearly not about technology. This is about public safety.”
This point is what SideCar is addressing above in its quote about being peer-to-peer ridesharing service (i.e., it’s arguing that it’s not a taxi service), though it seems that the PPA is not convinced.
When I asked O’Rourke if it was fair to describe Saturday’s operation as a “sting,” he said, “It was an operation to impound vehicles because they were operating illegally. If we find them out there again, we’ll impound them again.”
Update 2: I emailed SideCar to confirm CEO Sunil Paul’s statement that service would resume Friday and it sent this response:
Yes that is correct. SideCar is still operational in Philadelphia. During launch mode, SideCar operates on Friday and Saturday nights from 5pm – 3am. We will resume operations this Friday in Philadelphia as usual.
SideCar is a real-time ridesharing community that connects drivers with spare seats in their car to passengers who need instant rides across the city, via a user-friendly proprietary smartphone technology. It helps drivers because they use their own car and help cover the costs of maintenance - all while meeting people in the city. Meanwhile for passengers it makes it easy to get a ride, cheaper than alternatives, and gives them a unique personal interaction.