Join the Ridesharing Revolution

A few weeks ago I attended Open Access Philly. While there, I heard a presentation about a new service called SideCar, which does something called ridesharing. I felt immediately intrigued. As soon as I used it for the first time I knew it could revolutionize transportation, especially for the blind. The more I learned, the more intrigued I became. Now I want to tell everyone about SideCar.

I first met Yuriy at some event, I think the Drink Philly celebration. My friend Sonia introduced us but really didn’t get to talk. He runs Philly Startup Digest and works as a venture capitalist. He strongly encouraged me to come to an event called Open Access Philly. I said I’d check it out but sort of forgot about it.

Time passed, and SOnia and I did braille street art at the Philly Tech Week signature event. Yuriy acted as the carnival barker to use his own words. As things started winding down he came and sat down so we could talk. He got me a beer and we had a great conversation. He practically forced me to come to the next Open Access Philly. Civic-minded people meet and discuss their projects. It makes a great networking event, because the presenters actually get things done in their companies, they don’t just come there to get their name on a sheet. He wanted me to come for one or two meetings, then give a presentation myself. This excited me so of course I agreed to go.

While there I heard a presentation from Knick Knack Learning, an initiative to bring low-cost Android tablets to disadvantaged schools. I asked her about working with the blind and she wanted to know more. Apple products offer the best accessibility in comparison, but their higher price presents a challenge.

Then came the presentation about SideCar. Steve runs SideCar Philly. He introduced the company and the concept of ridesharing. Inspired by carpooling, SideCar uses an iPhone or Android app to connect drivers with riders. Riders enter their pick up and drop off locations, which gives drivers a way to only accept rides convenient for them. This makes it different from a taxi or limo service, or something like Uber.

Obviously people feel worried about safety. Their FAQ addresses this. A driver told me he had to give over practically every piece of information about himself to join: his name, SSN, driver’s license, insurance, and even his checking account. They go to great lengths to get the best drivers. A driver must also maintain a consistently high rating. Passengers rate drivers and drivers rate passengers. The company tracks the ride with GPS, and the passenger can even share this information with a friend.

A few days later I had a chance to download the app and try it out. I must say that the current version of the iPhone app lags horribly with VoiceOver, and I would like to work with the developers to resolve this. If you don’t mind battling with the lag then you can use the app. Sighted people won’t notice.

I entered my address as the pick up location, and Indy Hall’s as the drop off location. It displayed the estimated time of the nearest driver. I confirmed the ride and in a moment it dinged. The driver had accepted.

I still felt a little unsure. Would I get someone cool? Would I get someone mean? Would I get an axe-wielding maniac?

A few minutes later I got a notification that he had arrived. The button which says “Driver” calls him, so we talked and found each other. “So, you’re going to Indy Hall?” he asked. It turned out he worked with a database programming company which worked there. He knew exactly where to go, and we talked about programming the whole time. I felt amazed.

Every ride since then has seemed equally amazing. I have made friends with several drivers, and they accept my rides as soon as they see them. SideCar has revolutionized my life. It also has the potential to revolutionize Philadelphia.

And therein lies the problem. As of this writing, SideCar has entered into a battle with the Philadelphia Parking Authority. The PPA has their share of enemies. One restaurant will give you a free meal if you bring in a parking ticket. The cab companies have corrupted everything. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has taken a taxi in Philadelphia.

The city of Austin, Texas undergoes a similar battle. I laughed when I read that article’s title: Austin Wants Sharing. Yes, I do! Similar situations happen in other cities.

Because of this unfortunate situation, SideCar cannot accept donations from riders in these cities. In response, the company has decided to make rides available for free. Yes you read that right, you don’t have to pay anything. The company pays their drivers themselves. Until they resolve this, you can get free rides in Philadelphia and some other cities as well!

Obviously this situation cannot last forever. They have had to cut down on the number of drivers. This decreased supply has met with an increased demand, making rides sometimes hard to find. This puts people off to the service, which could cause a vicious cycle. Have faith. The system works.

If they can resolve this battle, and I desperately hope they can, then they will shift to a donation-based model. Riders will make donations to drivers. Even when you do have to pay, it will cost less than a smelly cab. Donations will also give them the ability to expand the number of drivers. Then the system will begin to realize its full potential, and we can all get safe, comfortable and fun rides around the city.

Do what you can to defend ridesharing. Ridesharing means less cars on the road with less impact on the environment. Ridesharing means safe and easy transportation anywhere anytime. Ridesharing means something amazing for the blind and disabled. Ridesharing means the future.

I love it when technology makes an authority obsolete. Filesharing did it with music. Bitcoin has begun doing it with currency. Now SideCar has done it with public transportation. Join the ridesharing revolution.

Epilog: Today SideCar announced that they have discontinued service in Philadelphia. It really makes me angry. How will we evolve into an interstellar species with parasites like the PPA? Negotiations will continue, and they still hope for a resolution. I hope the story doesn’t end here.