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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.