There’s a new wrinkle in SideCar‘s ongoing battle with local authorities in Austin. Just a day after announcing that it’s offering free transportation to SXSW Interactive attendees, the ride-sharing startup has decided to take the city’s transportation department to court.
The suit is just the latest in a series of battles with the city since SideCar acquired Austin-based ride-sharing startup HeyRide a few weeks ago as part of its expansion into seven new markets. After launching in San Francisco last summer, the company is in the midst of a big nationwide expansion.
After getting rebuffed by local officials here, SideCar has fired back at the Austin Department of Transportation with a lawsuit that it hopes will legitimize ride sharing in the city. The filing hit today, just a few weeks after the Austin city council passed an ordinance that would effectively make it illegal for SideCar or others to operate there. The ordinance allows for local police to impound the vehicles of drivers who aren’t licensed to provide taxi or limo rides if they’re caught giving rides for pay.
In response, SideCar, which launched in Austin just ahead of SXSW Interactive, decided to give rides for free. Instead of getting paid “donations” by passengers after a ride, SideCar is paying its drivers an hourly rate as “brand ambassadors” during the conference.
Now it’s going on the offensive against the city, with a lawsuit filed in Austin City Court today that’s designed to reverse the ordinance. Not just that, but SideCar hopes that by taking Austin to court, it will make clear that its ride-sharing service and others like it are legal under local regulations.
In SideCar v. The City of Austin, Texas, the company makes the following claims:
- SideCar is not a transportation service. SideCar is a technology platform that enables peer-to-peer ridesharing.
- The City Code regulates “chauffeured vehicles”. We don’t own or operate vehicles, dispatch drivers or mandate shifts.
- The City Code regulates “chauffeured vehicles” for a fee. Members of the SideCar rideshare community pay what they want and it’s voluntary.
- SideCar is protected under federal law.
Austin isn’t the only place where SideCar has been under fire from local regulators and city officials. Like Uber before it, SideCar received a cease-and-desist order and fines from the California Public Utilities Commission for operating an unlicensed charter party (i.e. limo) service in San Francisco. It’s also come under fire in Philadelphia, where three of its drivers had their cars impounded by the local police there.
I had a conversation with SideCar co-founder Nick Allen this morning at SXSWi, where he talks about the company’s free rides in Austin during the conference, as well as the lawsuit. Check out the whole video above.