City Desk

Taxi Regulators “Surprised” At Sidecar Ridesharing Service’s Launch

Ridesharing service Sidecar, which allows people to turn their cars into taxis, launches today in the District. As expected, the D.C. Taxi Cab Commission is perplexed.

Sidecar, which has already been operating in eight other U.S. cities, matches passengers with cars via a phone app. Unlike other app-dispatch services like Uber, though, Sidecar's drivers are ordinary people who only have to pass a background check and have a car of a certain quality level.

In other words, almost anyone can sign up—and many have already. Sidecar co-founder Nick Allen says the service already has dozens of drivers in Washington.

The service avoids taxi and sedan regulations by classifying payments at the end of a trip as "donations" instead of fares. While Sidecar suggests a donation, passengers can choose not to pay the driver—although they risk missing future rides in the future if they do. "It's kind of like getting a ride from a friend," Allen says. "And no one wants to stiff a friend."

The donation system has helped Sidecar skirt taxi regulations—for now. The D.C. Taxi Cab Commission met with Sidecar representatives weeks ago and came away with the impression that the company didn't plan to launch in the District, according to D.C. Taxicab Commission spokesman Neville Waters. Waters characterized commission chairman Ron Linton's reaction to Sidecar's impending launch as "a little surprised."

When Uber launched without the cab commission's approval, Linton impounded one of the service's cars. It's not clear yet whether Sidecar will face the same fate, but Allen says he expects future talks with regulators after today's launch.

Update, 4:15. After meeting again with Sidecar, the D.C. Taxi Cab Commission says it doesn't currently consider Sidecar vehicles as "vehicles for hire." "While our legal advisors are continuing to review their business model the initial reaction is that SideCar’s operations would not appear to be classified as public vehicles for hire," commission spokesman Waters writes in an email.

Photo courtesy Sidecar.

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  • Typical DC BS

    Gee, what could possibly go wrong with this set-up? What happens if there's an accident? What happens if the driver gets upset when there's no "donation"?

    Waiting for stupidity to ensue in 3-2-1...

  • Dave Sutton

    Back when the Uber hearings were going on, it seemed like the DC Council was so eager to avoid being labeled “anti-innovation” that it simply decided to give Uber anything it wanted. Reporters across the country still mention Uber’s astonishing “victory” in DC. To me, the DC Council’s willingness to give Uber carte blanche was a failure to protect District residents.

    Now it’s time for the Council to step up. These “ridesharing” or “hitchhiking apps” like SideCar pose a genuine threat to public safety. They hire non-professional drivers without proper training, insurance or vehicle inspections and arrange for them to pick up passengers who can choose whether or not they want to pay for their ride. It’s a set-up for disaster. To avoid taxi regulations, these California-based ridesharing companies pretend they are offering a new carpool service, or that the “donations” for rides are voluntary, but these companies are obviously designed to generate a profit. It's a God-awful business model that is clearly illegal and dangerous for passengers and drivers both.

    The taxi industry is already dangerous, but these hitchhiking apps like Sidecar are going to lead straight to tragic outcomes in DC. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

  • Mary-Alice

    Thanks Will for the thorough coverage! One clarification - the drivers are more thoroughly vetted than you state. After an insurance verification, criminal/auto/sex offender background check, drivers are interviewed on the phone, then come in to our DC HQ for a class which doubles as an in-person interview. -MA

  • Shirar

    Thank you Dave, you hit the nail right on head. Some SideCar drivers may be driving old beat vehicles, at least Taxis in DC have to be inspected every six months which very much give customers some confidence and some sense of mechanical safety.
    There is Actual fare for every ride, but to make it sound free and legally acceptable, it now called donation. If a customer does't pay donation, he/she will be flagged as a bad customer.

  • the time

    I see. NOW all of a sudden DC taxis are paragons of safety. Faced with a potentially LOWER cost rival, DC taxis suddenly look good. But with the higher cost Uber, DC taxis stink. Got it.

    Dave, I agree with you about the way Uber came in and steamrolled everyone. It was in a word disgusting.

    But I'm willing to give Real Ride Sharing a chance.

  • JustMe

    the DC Council’s willingness to give Uber carte blanche was a failure to protect District residents.

    DC residents are better off now than they were before Uber.

  • Pingback: Crisis of confidence?

  • Ben

    Dave are you serious? Have you been in one of these "professional, trained, and inspected" cabs you praise so highly in DC? I suspect not, Because i've taken many cabs in DC and they are all huge pieces of garbage, last one I was in had a check engine light on with no air conditioning and even the slightest bump sent the vehicle into a noise convulsion. You have to be joking. SideCar the answer? Maybe not, but it sure isnt worse than what we have in DC now. Which is 3rd world cab service.