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Innovation Profile: Catch a Ride

Apps on course to replace your local taxi service

Need a ride? Or maybe you just don’t feel like driving today. Worry not, citizen of the modern world. There is, of course, an app for that. Rideshares are not an entirely new concept, but the last few years have definitely seen new, digital ways of connecting would-be passengers with the vehicularly endowed. Apps such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar (among others) give those in need of transport on-demand access to a network of drivers ready to pick them up at a moment’s notice. With just the swipe of a screen, anyone with a smartphone can basically have his or her own personal—if only for a moment—chauffeur.

Launched in 2010, Uber (formerly UberCab) was one of the first companies to market this type of private, mobile-based transportation system. The brainchild of two San Francisco Web entrepreneurs, Uber lets users request a driver and type of vehicle, set a pick-up time and location, get a fare estimate, and pay for their ride via credit card—all through the Web-based interface. So, it’s easier than ever to arrange for a way to get from point A to point B.

By contracting with local limo and private service providers, Uber gives its users an affordable way to ride in style. Luxury sedans and high-profile SUVs are typical of an Uber ride experience, but the company has now expanded to include an even more economical UberX option that contracts non-professional drivers to use their personal vehicles as a means of giving users a lift. This concept of hiring individuals as opposed to professional drivers is a trend that newer apps including Lyft and Sidecar (both also based in San Francisco) are building their entire network around.

So how do these companies distinguish themselves? For Lyft, it’s a bright-pink mustache on the grill of a car that signifies a friendly, Lyft-approved driver is coming your way. Lyft also differentiates itself by pulling in your Facebook profile, so you can see it on the driver’s GPS while you’re sitting in the backseat. Stingy tippers should know, though, that Lyft drives also rate you—so if you want to use the service consistently, make sure you tip and behave well. Sidecar, on the other hand, is the only app that tells you the actual cost up front (as opposed to estimates based on time and distance) and lets drivers set their own prices in order to compete for providers’ attention.

Luckily, all of these apps encourage users to provide driver reviews and ratings—a nice touch that puts a face and name to these otherwise anonymous motorists before you decide to hop in a car with them. Want to give it a try? Uber operates in more than 85 cities across the globe—from San Francisco to London to Shanghai—and Lyft, Sidecar and other apps are catching up quickly, offering their services in a number of major U.S. cities.

Jennifer Sanchez is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.


Photography by Veer

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