Sidecar is a ridesharing app that lets you hail point-to-point rides from your phone. Though not as popular or widely available as its two main rivals, Uber and Lyft, it is available in Seattle, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Long Beach, San Diego, Chicago, Charlotte, Boston, and Washington, D.C. as of fall 2014 – though more markets are in the works.
Compared to its bigger competitors, it has some important differences that make it worth a closer look. Most notably, Sidecar offers riders more control over the ridesharing experience when compared to Uber and Lyft. After you download the app and sign up for the service, you can request rides in any city where Sidecar operates. When you make a request, you can choose your driver based on several criteria, including vehicle type and quality rating, and see the exact price of your ride before you confirm.
Sidecar drivers can set their own prices too, competing against their peers as well as other ridesharing drivers, offering riders a better value in the process. Drivers can also personalize the rider experience with perks, such as refreshments or cool music, and advertise these amenities on their personal profiles – a feature unique to Sidecar. If this service is available in your city, you should definitely try it out.
Like Uber’s and Lyft’s, Sidecar’s fares have three components:
- A base fare that’s added to the cost of the trip before it begins
- A per-mile charge
- A per-minute charge
For each city, Sidecar issues a recommended pricing scheme. For instance, Seattle’s is a base rate of $2, a per-mile rate of $1.75, and a per-minute rate of $0.30. D.C.’s is a base rate of $3.08, a per-mile rate of $1.05, and a per-minute rate of $0.22.
By contrast, Uber and Lyft riders in Seattle have an identical fee structure: a base rate of $1.35, a per-mile rate of $1.35, and a per-minute rate of $0.24. In D.C., Uber riders pay a base rate of $2, a per-mile rate of $1.25, and a per-minute rate of $0.25. Lyft riders there pay a base rate of $2.03, a per-mile rate of $1.26, and a per-minute rate of $0.26.
Therefore, in Seattle, Sidecar may be more expensive than either Uber or Lyft. In D.C., it may be more expensive for shorter rides but cheaper for longer rides. Keep in mind though that Sidecar drivers are free to set their own rates, based on a multiple (such as 0.8 or 1.2) of the recommended fare.
- Stored Credit Card Information. When you create a Sidecar account and download the app, you provide at least one credit card for the company’s files. You can add or delete cards as you wish.
- Upfront Pricing. When you request a pickup, you receive price quotes from each driver in your area. Some drivers may intentionally quote fares below Sidecar’s recommended rate for their market in order to attract more riders. In theory, this allows you to find the cheapest possible ride. In all cases, the quoted price is final, based on the actual distance and estimated driving time due to traffic conditions at the time of pickup. It can’t change as a result of an unexpected traffic jam or other delays.
- Driver Selection and Pickup Request. To summon a Sidecar driver, log into the app, specify your pickup and drop-off locations, enter the number of passengers with you (this doesn’t affect the price of the ride), and select “Choose Driver.” You can filter the available drivers in your city by ETA, ride price, and Sidecar recommendation. This recommendation system promotes drivers who consistently receive high ratings from riders and reduces the visibility of drivers who receive lower ratings. You can also browse through drivers to see what type of car they drive (an actual picture) and the amenities (such as snacks, gum, or music) they offer in the vehicle. Once you request a pickup, your driver should call you shortly after to confirm your location. During this conversation, be sure to mention anything unusual, such as whether you’re carrying groceries or traveling with a pet.
- Riding. Once the driver arrives, get in the car and confirm your destination. Sidecar encourages riders to sit up front, so do that if you feel comfortable.
- Secure, Cashless Payment. Sidecar drivers don’t accept cash. You can pay with your stored credit card anytime after the ride ends. Sidecar takes 20% of the ride’s cost and your driver keeps 80%. If you want to tip, you can increase the total payment within the app, though Sidecar still takes its 20% cut. If you don’t pay within 30 minutes, Sidecar charges the quoted price to your stored credit card.
- Receipts. Within an hour of paying, you receive an emailed receipt that includes the ride’s total cost.
- Ratings. After your ride, you rate your driver on a three-tier scale: “no complaints,” “pretty bad,” or “exceptionally good.” If you choose the latter two, you’re asked for more specific information. Sidecar doesn’t say exactly how these ratings affect drivers, aside from the fact that riders can see the driver’s overall rating, but it’s likely that drivers frequently rated “exceptional” are recommended more frequently than poorly rated ones. Passengers also get a rating, on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, which future drivers see before accepting rides from them. If you’re rude to drivers, you could find it increasingly difficult to find one willing to take you.
- Promotions and Incentives. Sidecar occasionally runs city-specific deals and promotions, especially in new markets. For instance, an October 2014 promotion in Chicago featured free rides for an entire weekend.
- Lost and Found. If you lose something in a Sidecar, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the date, time, description, and condition of the item, and as much information about the vehicle and driver as possible. Sidecar typically responds to these requests in one to two business days and coordinates a meeting between you and the driver.
- Driver Referrals. To boost ridership, Sidecar assigns each driver a referral code that can be distributed however they see fit – on social media, in person, by email, and so on. If a new rider uses this code to download the Sidecar app, the referring driver (provided that they’re logged into the app and in the area at the time) always appears at the top of the list of recommended drivers shown to that rider. Drivers get 100% of the fares paid by riders they refer – Sidecar doesn’t take its customary cut.
Driver Policies & Qualifications
While drivers don’t need a commercial license or previous driving-for-hire experience to work with Sidecar, the company does maintain the following standards:
- Personal Insurance. Drivers must carry personal insurance policies that meet their state’s minimum requirements.
- Additional Insurance Coverage Paid for by Sidecar. Sidecar pays for additional insurance that covers drivers signed into its app. This includes a $1 million property damage and bodily injury liability policy, and $50,000 in collision insurance coverage.
- Vehicle Standards. Vehicles must be in good condition and no older than the 2000 model year. Before being approved, all drivers must get their vehicles inspected for safety at their local Jiffy Lube, which partners with Sidecar to offer a discounted rate of $19.99. These inspections are required for all active drivers.
- Background and Driving Record. Drivers must be at least 21 and must have had a valid driver’s license for at least one year prior to signing up. Sidecar requires a relatively clean driving record: It doesn’t specify its exact standards, but serious violations such as DUIs and reckless driving are no-nos. One or two minor violations, such as speeding, may be acceptable. Sidecar also conducts thorough background checks on all drivers, with felonies, property crimes, drug crimes, and sexual assault as grounds for disqualification.
- Zero-Tolerance Policy. All ridesharing providers take complaints of intoxicated drivers seriously, but Sidecar’s policy is straightforward and explicit. Any driver found to be using alcohol or illegal drugs (or misusing legal drugs) while driving is immediately and permanently terminated. Sidecar encourages riders who suspect such activity to contact its support team as well as the public transportation regulator in their area.
- Ratings. Sidecar may deactivate poorly rated drivers’ accounts. It’s vague about when this happens, saying only that “multiple bad ratings” are grounds for dismissal.
1. Drivers Can Set Their Own Prices
Sidecar is the only ridesharing provider that allows drivers to set their own prices. This fosters competition between drivers, potentially lowering the final cost for riders – especially in cities with lots of Sidecar drivers, such as San Francisco. By contrast, Uber and Lyft have set prices based on the location, length, and duration of the ride.
2. You Can Select Your Driver Using Multiple Criteria
Sidecar gives you lots of information about the drivers in your network, including pictures of their vehicles, their personal backgrounds, and the amenities they provide in their cars. In addition to ride cost, you can also filter by length of service and driver rating. Unlike other ridesharing apps, you’re not automatically paired with the driver closest to you. This range of choice increases your chances of having a pleasant experience with Sidecar.
3. Know the Exact Cost of Your Ride in Advance
In addition to letting drivers compete on price, Sidecar shows you the final cost of your ride (as quoted by each available driver) before you confirm your pickup. This price can’t change based on traffic conditions, reroutes, or other unanticipated developments, though you’re free to tip your driver extra for such inconveniences. By contrast, Uber and Lyft only give you an estimate of your ride’s cost, with the potential for overruns due to traffic and other delays.
4. Supportive, Highly Social Atmosphere
Sidecar cultivates a friendly community for riders and drivers. For riders, the fact that drivers offer refreshments and other perks sets Sidecar apart from Uber, which discourages such interaction. And, being able to choose your driver increases the likelihood of a good experience.
For drivers, Sidecar offers a wealth of online support, including SherpaShare, an analytic platform that tracks driving costs and calculates earnings. Its National Driver Spotlight, a regular blog feature, profiles individual drivers and adds a personal touch to the rider-driver relationship – also lacking with Uber. Things like this boost driver morale and increase the likelihood of a positive riding experience.
5. Drivers Can Build Personal Rider Networks
Sidecar encourages drivers to promote themselves by disseminating referral codes and forgoing its cut of the fares drivers collect from referred riders. This financial incentive makes drivers more likely to pick up riders they refer. So if it’s a busy night on the Sidecar app, the driver who referred you may skip a request from a non-referred person to pick you up – possibly going out of the way to do so. That could be a big perk if you’re in a hurry.
6. More Flexible Service Boundaries Within Markets
Though Sidecar operates in distinct markets, it’s more lenient about where drivers can go within them, setting no definite outer boundaries. Rides are up to the discretion of the drivers: If they’re okay driving you an hour or more away, Sidecar won’t interfere. For instance, in the Charlotte area, neither Uber nor Lyft serves the nearby, fairly large cities of Rock Hill and Gastonia, both less than 30 miles from downtown Charlotte. This makes Sidecar a better option for longer rides, such as if you’re traveling between your urban home to an outlying community for an overnight trip, and in more spread-out urban areas.
1. Not as Widely Available as Uber or Lyft
Sidecar’s biggest disadvantage is its limited availability. As of fall 2014, it’s live in fewer than a dozen cities in the U.S. and no international locations. So even if the service sounds appealing, you might not be able to try it. Sidecar’s leaders have talked about expanding into other markets, but there’s no official timeline or list of locations yet.
2. No High-End Services
Though you can sort your ride options by vehicle make, eliminating older or less fancy cars, Sidecar doesn’t offer a service for riders who want limo- or livery-like comfort.
By contrast, Uber offers higher-end services such as UberBlack (late-model livery vehicles, like Lincoln TownCar), UberLUX (only high-end luxury sedans, like Mercedes S-Class), and UberSUV (late-model and luxury SUVs, such as Cadillac Escalade). So, if you’re set on a stylish ride and the only available Sidecar drivers near you are rocking early-2000s Toyotas and Chevys, you may need to try your luck with one of those more expensive options.
3. No Guarantee of Discounts During Slow Periods
Though Sidecar drivers may lower their own prices to spur rider demand during slow periods, there’s no guarantee that they will. By contrast, Lyft’s Happy Hour pricing system automatically cuts prices across individual markets when demand is low, such as weekday late nights. During Happy Hour periods, Lyft may be a better deal than Sidecar in markets where both operate.
4. Rating System Isn’t as Useful for Managing Drivers
Sidecar’s rating system is more lenient than that of other ridesharing companies, particularly Lyft. Drivers with mediocre ratings tend to appear lower down, or not at all, on Sidecar’s list of recommended drivers. A pattern of “pretty bad” ratings can even get drivers kicked off the service. However, Sidecar isn’t transparent about when or how it makes these decisions.
By contrast, Lyft drivers must maintain a rating of better than 4.5 out of 5 stars to remain active. In other words, you’re basically guaranteed a highly rated driver with Lyft, because poor or even mediocre drivers aren’t allowed to remain on the service. With Sidecar, however, you may not know what you’re getting – and that can be a problem if your only available driver has a history of negative interactions with customers.
If you’re a big user of alternative forms of transportation, you’ve probably used (or at least considered) Uber and Lyft – but they’re not the only ridesharing kids on the block these days. With some unique, driver- and rider-friendly features, Sidecar provides a compelling option where it’s available. It is also an ambitious company that’s receptive to user input. So if Sidecar is not yet in your town, feel free to get in touch with its reps (email@example.com) and make your case for a local network.
Sidecar is a community-oriented ridesharing provider that’s supportive of both drivers and passengers. Since drivers can set their own prices and offer value-added perks, it offers more choice for riders. A robust driver community increases employee morale, improving riders’ odds of a good experience. However, Sidecar isn’t as widely available as its two main competitors and doesn’t have a transparent system for rating driver quality.
4.2 out of 5 stars: Where it’s available, Sidecar is great. Driver selection criteria and competitive pricing are big pluses for riders, as is transparent pricing. Geographical limitations and a poor rating system hurt, however.
Is Sidecar available where you live? Have you ever used it to get around?