Residents of our nation’s capital will now get to see what ride-sharing is all about, as San Francisco-based startup SideCar announced today that it is making its service available Washington, D.C. The launch there marks the ninth market that SideCar has launched in, as the company is aggressively expanding across the country. But it also raises questions about how city officials will react to newer transportation services.
As in its other markets, SideCar is launching with a bit of a staggered rollout in D.C. — the service will initially be available on weekends only, before making rides available more generally during the week. The new city follows a launch in Chicago, Boston, and Brooklyn last week, as SideCar is rolling out around the country. It’s also got drivers in San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Austin, and Los Angeles.
But the launch in D.C. could prove contentious with local officials, based on their reaction to another transportation service launching there. Previously, Uber had a run-in with the D.C. city council. The city first tried to make the on demand car service prohibitively expensive with a so-called “Uber amendment” that would have set a minimum rate it could charge. That amendment ended up getting shelved, allowing Uber to continue operating in the nation’s capital.
After months of negotiations, Uber later got the blessing of the D.C. city council for its on-demand mobile apps, with the passage of new rules that legitimized its services there. But while the D.C. e-hail rules will allow Uber to offer its e-hail services in the city’s capital, it’s less clear that they will work for ride-sharing services like SideCar.
That’s because the D.C. rules allow for users to hail rides with mobile apps and allows providers to charge based on distance travelled, but require drivers to be licensed as taxi or limo operators. As a result, SideCar’s community drivers wouldn’t qualify under the same rules.
No doubt SideCar is prepared for a fight. After a run-in with local officials in Austin, the company sued the local department of transportation there for prohibiting its ride-share service from launching around SXSW. It’s also run up against problems in Philadelphia, where three of its drivers had their cars impounded.
Nevertheless, SideCar continues to operate in those markets, and it’s pretty well capitalized to continue fighting legal battles. It raised $10 million in Series A financing from Lightspeed Venture Partners and others, and has hired a head of public policy in order to face these challenges.
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.