San Fran’s popular Sidecar is the latest ridesharing app for Seattle

Nov 26, 2012

Did you get stuck in traffic during the Thanksgiving weekend? Or: worry about your kids getting dicey rides home from holiday parties?

Those are two reasons you might be interested in a relatively new,
alternative form of transportation: ridesharing.

It's really just a new spin on hitchhiking. Only, when you add in cell phones with an app to download, it’s quicker and more convenient to find the right ride.

It’s a bit like a bulletin board on a website, with approved circles of users, who share the cost of gas.And with tracking technology, such as the GPS available on smart phones, it’s also a lot safer. That’s the theory anyway.

 “We spent a lot of time making sure that this system is safe, and it’s a core value if this service, to make sure that it’s safe,” says Sunil Paul, the CEO of Sidecar, the latest ridesharing service to enter the Seattle market.  

He says the app has features built in to make it safer than hitchhiking, such as being able to quietly share your real-time location with others.

“You can get a real, live update on a map and a live ETA update. So if you’re meeting someone for dinner or you’ve left somebody, you canshare that information,” Paul says. 

On top of that, he says they do background checks on every driver, they keep copies of every driver license registered and they verify the drivers’ licenses and insurance information. On the passenger side, they check to make sure the credit card being used is valid. 

Sidecar launched earlier this year in San Francisco. Seattle is the startup's second market, where they’ve started relatively small, with limited hours on Fridays and Saturday nights.

And yet they’ve received more than $10 million in venture capital for their expansion, from Google and others.

That’s despite receiving a “cease-and-desist” order from California’s Public Utilities Commission – as well as tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Authorities there are penalizing not just Sidecar, but also two similar rivals, which both also do business in Seattle, (called Uber and Zimride.)

California says these are not software startups, they’re transportation companies –– so they shouldn’t get the tax breaks awarded to high tech firms.

But Seattle seems to be welcoming them, for now. Stan Suchan, with the Washington State Department of Transportation says it’s great news to see another ridesharing service in use here.

“The Pacific NW is home to one of the largest ridesharing communities
already.  Rideshareonline.com is one of the addresses you can use to
tap into that, over 60,000 members in the Pacific Northwest.” 

For its part, Sidecar says it’s already doubled its ridership in Seattle, since it launched here in early November. And the company says it just enlisted a new high-powered lobbyist, “to help ensure a more intelligent application of regulations” nationwide.

High-tech veteran David Philips says he’ll go to bat not just for Sidecar, but also for its competitors in the ridesharing industry.