Plenty of websites and apps now help travelers connect on long distance road trips to save money and fuel. Thanks to companies like Zimride, people driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco no longer have to brave long stretches of the I-5 alone (with the lone comfort of In-N-Out to get them through the journey). But why should intra-urban travel be any different? Is there a way to make it just as comfortable to hitch a ride to the grocery store over your iPhone as it is to hitch one across Texas?
An app called SideCar launched publicly today, promising "a seamless experience that connects you with drivers in your community instantly." Users enter their pick up and drop off locations, wait for a driver to show, and then pay a cashless donation using their phone based on a "community average" that crowdsources a fair price. To offer a bit of security, the app's website promises that "Every community driver is licensed, insured and background-checked" as well as interviewed over video chat. If that's not enough, GPS-tracking, round-the-clock customer support, and community ratings promise extra safety.
Of course, for some people that may not be enough to make them feel good about hopping in the car with a stranger. And there's always the question of how you ought to interact with the driver, who's not a professional, may want to chat, or may want nothing to do with you. The final challenge for the startup is regulation—the company must choose its words carefully to make it clear that the payment is a donation, not a fare. Donation or not, SideCar CEO Sunil Paul told TechCrunch that the "'vast majority of people'" paid something during SideCar's 10,000-ride private beta.
For now, the app is only available in San Francisco, but the company plans to expand rapidly.