Just like there were experiments before the Internet really took off, with people locked in apartments ordering all necessities online, or recently people living entirely off Craigslist, there should be an experiment of personal transportation done only via car-hire and sharing apps, just to prove a point.
Those who have tried the convenience of services like Zipcar swear by it, especially in large metropolitan cities, where car ownership and parking costs way too much. There are also a number of on-demand car hure apps like Uber, Lyft or SideCar that hook you up with vetted drivers, sometimes people using their own cars for the purpose, or services with their own shared fleets. Some of them work as a small "donation" fee goes towards your driver, and they collect a certain percentage to maintain the app and the database, like what a traditional dispatcher would do.
These voluntary "donations" are often half of what you'd pay for a cab fare, and it's like you get driven home by a friend, which can come in pretty handy after that all-nighter pub crawl you just pulled off. Others are like full-fledged taxi services, and the GPS unit of a smartphone is used to determine the distance and time, hence rate. We've rounded a few of these ride services in the slideshow below to show you how you can get around the city in an alternate fashion and save money if you brave to try them.
Hitch that ride: can the rise of crowdsourced car sharing apps continue unregulated?
We'd be remiss not to start with the granddaddy of them all, Zipcar (Android/iPhone), probably the most popular car-sharing service. Wow, did we just call a company that was considered a startup until not long ago "the granddaddy"? That's how quickly people realized the the convenience of such services in the big cities. Zipcar owns its own fleet, doesn't rent personal vehicles with or without you as the driver, like the next apps we've rounded, and has the widest reach of them all, available in most major US cities, and even abroad.
The premise is that for an annual membership fee you can drive any Zipcar that is available around you for an hourly, daily and so on fee, which, considering that fuel and maintenance are included, comes up to much less than what you pay monthly for a car ownership, which often sits unused most of the time. The app is very straightforward, shows the nearest available vehicles, lets you choose between small cars, vans, pickup trucks and so on, and unlocks them after you've paid for the time requested.
2. SideCar Ride
SideCar Ride is also available for iOS
and can hook you up with all vetted drivers nearby who can take you and deliver to your destination against a pretty reasonable voluntary "donation".
You can observe the approaching of the nearest SideCar-approved driver in real time on a map, so as you always know how much you have to wait. Best of all, it's much cheaper than cabs, since the service shows you the average amount other users paid for the same ride, and asks you if you agree to grant it.
The drivers' selection goes through a background check, phone interview and in-person interview, so the service owners can screen the candidates. There is no cash involved in the transaction, as SideCar takes the amount needed for the ride directly from the card you've designated for payment, so if you are cash-strapped somewhere, it's a good alternative. Currently only available in San Franciscoand Seattle, the service is planning to do a lot of expansion down the road, since other states are starting to approve the practice.
Very similar to SideCar, Lyft is only iOS for now, and offers the same ride sharing services against a small "donation" fee. Drivers and passengers are both subject to a rating system, so you can rarely get away with being rude or not paying anything, but the whole setup costs sometimes less than 50% of what you'd pay for a cab, and you get to meet nice new people in the process, so it is definitely worth a try at least.
Uber is available for both iOS and Android
, as well as unofficially for Windows Phone
, and is a car-hire service that it claims goes through a few very simple steps:
1) Set your location
2) Send your request
3) Hop in your car
4) Hop out at your destination
5) Rate your driver
*payment happens on the backend with your card on file.
It is currently operational in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., Vancouver, Toronto, Paris, Philadelphia, Dallas and San Diego. Uber drivers have cars such as Lincoln Town Cars, Cadillac Escalades, BMW 7 Series, and Mercedes-Benz S550 sedans. You can also reserve via text message, and customers can track their reserved car's location with the Uber app.
A strictly car sharing app, Zimride for iOS is an extension of the online rideshare service that lets you carpool to popular destinations from your place for a fraction of the costs. Drivers loan their seats to save on gas, folks without a ride get to travel on the cheap, and everybody has some company in the process. The vetting process is enhanced by Zimrider profiles for both drivers and passengers, as well as personal reviews of the experience.
If you happen to be in Europe, you can take advantage of the largest carpool network there, which comes with its own Android and iPhone apps for each major country it is operational in. With almost 4 million registered subscribers, it's easy to find someone with extra seats in your direction.
There are separate apps for each country ending in .fr for France, .pl for Poland, and so on. The handy geolocator shows you the nearest five cities with the best carpool options to/from there currently available.
A slick carpooling app for both the iPhone and Android, RiderBee matches those with extra seats to those who are offering a best price for the route with ease. Helps you to earn or save a few bucks on your commute, and arrive faster by using the HOV lane. There are user profiles with pictures and preferences, and a rating system how timely the driver and riders are on average.
All fine and dandy so far, and these services literally exploded the last two years in major US cities, and even abroad. Flies are, however, starting to drop in the honey jar. Last Tuesday, three of the above-mentioned companies - Uber, Zimride and SideCar, were fined $20,000 apiece for operating without a taxi service licence. Uber is also fighting lawsuits from San Francisco cabbies, and has legal problems around its Chicago operation, too.
As more and more people are using such crowdsourced car sharing services, the apps and companies behind them are not going to stay below the radar for much longer, and the freeriding days might be behind them, pun intended.
Last Friday, the International Association of Transportation Regulators (IATR), which has memberships spanning from New York, Chicago, Boston, Houston and San Francisco to Toronto and other major cities, came up with a set of rules aimed to reign in the services provided by those smartphone apps
, reports the WSJ
. The New York City ex-taxi commissioner Matthew Daus is leading the effort, and wants this basic set of regulations over the smartphone car-hire services that undermine the traditional taxi cab infrastructure to be accepted across major cities.
One of IATR's newly-minted rules is, for example, forbidding the use of the smartphone GPS radios to determine the fare, like, say, Uber is doing, as they say taxi meters are more accurate for measuring distance. Thus, in New York City you'd still be able to hail a cab with a smartphone app, but it has to be from one of the established yellow cab companies there, as per the new rules, as they'd have the required meters.
Another jab at the new ride services that are proliferating as everyone and their pet are smartphone-equipped, is the regulation aiming to curb "demand pricing" surcharges, such as the fee of the lift going up if more people are looking for the service at the same time in the area, like in peak hours. Tell that to an exasperated New Yorker trying to get a cab 4-5pm when the shifts change - they might consider a small surcharge preferable than standing on the curb for half an hour around that time.
The owners of services like Uber, Zimride and SideCar are not immediately commenting on how are they going to fight the proposed new rules, but SideCar's CEO issued a statement - "government should encourage innovation and rethink regulatory frameworks developed over a half century ago." Those companies have already expressed their position numerous times however - that they are making the car-hire business cheaper and more efficient, making sure the full capacity of vehicles is utilized, and helping cities' traffic congestion and pollution levels in the process.
It seems, however, that the entrenched interests of the traditional taxi cab services are starting to fight back, and the proposed new rules for 15 major US and Canadian cities by the International Association of Transportation Regulators might be considered a call for battle. What do you think, are the car sharing services available via apps on our smartphones going to have a hard time fighting back regulation? Do you have any personal impressions how Uber, Lyft, Zimride, SideCar and the others stack up?