Somewhere between hailing a taxi and bumming a ride from a friend, there's Sidecar.
The ride-sharing app, which is based in San Francisco but has expanded to other cities including New York, Boston and L.A., arrived in the Chicago market about a month ago and now has more than 50 drivers in the city.
The iPhone- and Android-compatible app connects passengers who need a ride with everyday people who have extra space in their car.
"We're definitely not a taxi service," said Lisa Frame, the community manager for Sidecar Chicago. "Our drivers are not taxi drivers and there's no dispatcher."
While the interface—which shows nearby drivers and offers a 'suggested donation' to help defray the driver's costs—may feel similar to Uber or other taxi apps, Sidecar drivers could be your neighbor or a friend of a friend.
"One of the first times I used Sidecar in Chicago, I picked a woman named Cindy," Frame said. "She was driving north on Damen [Avenue], which was perfect because I was heading to the Target on Elston. She picked me up in two minutes, I sat shotgun and she had homemade cookies in her car for passengers."
Technically, passengers don't pay for their rides, instead offering a donation (payable through the app) to their driver.
Sidecar stresses that this isn't a free-for-all—there are rules and numerous safety features in place to protect both drivers and passengers.
Drivers must be licensed and insured with vehicles in good condition, and they submit to a background check and then attend an in-person training session that covers safety procedures. Rides are GPS tracked, and passengers can share their ride with friends so that others know their location. Riders can rate drivers and vice versa, and those ratings are clearly displayed on the app.
"Sidecar is built on this mutual trust between passengers and drivers," Frame said. "Drivers can get a donation just like you would if you were bumming a ride to IKEA with a friend—you might get them lunch or throw them some gas money."
On a larger scale, Sidecar thinks its humble app has the potential to alleviate Chicago's notorious traffic.
"There’s over a million cars that go through the Dan Ryan and Kennedy every single day," Frame said. "There's an opportunity to get cars off the road because it makes cars on the road more efficient. Ever since I’ve been working at Sidecar, I’m so aware of all the empty seats I see in cars."
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