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New ride-sharing service launches in D.C.

D.C. residents will add a new ride-sharing service to their transportation options tonight, as SideCar starts offering rides starting at 5 p.m. Spawned out of San Francisco, D.C. will be the ninth city to welcome a local branch of SideCar, which uses an app to connect registered drivers with riders willing to give donations for the lift.

“SideCar is not a taxi company,” said Steve Harrell, director of East Coast operations for the sprawling start-up. “We’re a matching service. We’re just matching people who need a ride with regular everyday rivers willing to give them.”

Harrell said the concept, known as “slugging” in D.C. carpooling circles, has been around for years. SideCar just formalizes it — and tries to make the practice safer and more accessible.

Harrell said D.C. residents began requesting the service locally after experiencing it in cities like Seattle, Austin and Philadelphia. SideCar started in San Francisco a little over a year ago with a decade-long vision to “empower communities to create their own transportation networks.”

The D.C. branch, which is operating out of a small office at 14th and Q streets, continues to recruit drivers even as it rolls out the service tonight. Because of that, Harrell said he couldn’t give an exact number of drivers at this point. The company has 50 employees nationwide, and a 20-percent cut from the payments to drivers funds the service’s infrastructure.

Riders can access the service through the smarphone app, requesting a ride and entering their pick-up and drop-off locations. The system notifies registered drivers in the area who may be taking a similar route, providing a driver profile to the rider before he or she accepts.

Once aboard, riders can track their progress on the app and notify friends via social media of their location, which Harrell said is an added safety feature. The rider pays “whatever they want” to the driver, though there is a suggested donation.

Payments can be made through the app after users have entered in their information, so no cash has to be exchanged.
SideCar vets drivers with background and driving history checks, and they have to have insurance, registration and, of course, a license. Harrell said every driver has to come by the office for an in-person training course as well.

So what’s the benefit to them?

“The drivers take this great pride in helping out their communities, reducing carbon emissions and giving people a fun and safe way to get around,” Harrell said.

Read more articles by Whitney Pipkin.

Whitney Pipkin is a freelance journalist who covers food, agriculture, and the environment and lives in Alexandria, Va. She writes about food, etc. at thinkabouteat.com.
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