Here's What It's Like Getting Around In Philly's Free 'Rogue' Car Service


I’m in Philly for the weekend, determined to prove I can have a great time for less than $100. 

So far, I’m having a blast and I’ve still got 80 bucks to play around with.

One of my biggest concerns in planning this trip was figuring out how to get around in the cheapest way possible. Luckily, Philly is very pedestrian-friendly, so I’ve been getting away with walking just about everywhere.

But last night, I really needed a ride. It was after midnight, train service had stopped, and I didn’t want to fool with buses without knowing which line to take or how to get back to my host’s apartment. 

It didn’t help that everyone at the downtown bar where I was hanging out gave me those big “Oh, girl, NO!” eyes when I told them I was thinking about legging it home. 

So I decided to take a gamble on a free ride-share service called SideCar I heard about. It’s supposed to be the anti-taxi. Launched in San Francisco less than a year ago, the SideCar app hooks up willing drivers with people who need a cheap ride, kind of like Uber. But the difference is that SideCar lets ordinary car owners sign up to drive passengers—whether or not they’re licensed.

It’s an awesome concept, but there’s just one problem –– city governments hate them.
SideCar has expaned to eight cities, and Philly was its first location on the East Coast. They’ve been battling the city’s Parking Authority (PPA) ever since launching earlier this year. The PPA, which regulates taxis, thinks they’re a rogue service passing themselves off as a cheap cab service. In fact, after a “sting” operation in February, the PPA impounded three vehicles driven by SideCar drivers and shut the whole operation down. 

Or so they thought. 

SideCar is still going strong in Philly, operating its service for free to riders until it convinces the PPA that it’s legal. 

It’s faced similar kick back elsewhere, but the company has been sending fleets of drivers into cities like Philly, Boston and even New York anyway, offering free rides on Friday and Saturday nights from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m..

Apart from the legal troubles, my guess is that by offering free rides, SideCar is hoping to get enough people hooked on the service to kick up public support and help them pass muster with local governments. 

Is it safe? 
SideCar maintains that they’re simply a “technology-based platform that enables peer-to-peer ridesharing.” The drivers own their cars and SideCar vets them individually, running “more checks on our drivers than taxi or limo services,” it says, “Plus, all matched rides are recorded and GPS tracked for safety.”

This all brings us back to last night, when at 12:30 a.m. I logged into the SideCar app and punched in my location. A driver was nearby, luckily, and once he confirmed his availability, I sat back and waited.

Within 10 minutes, I got a phone call from the cordial driver, who even offered to drive a couple of blocks further to pick me up when we realised I’d given him the wrong address. I didn’t have to wonder where he was or when he’d arrive. I could watch his car inch along via the SideCar app’s GPS tracker, which also gave me his ETA. 

From there, it was like hitching a ride with a friend. I hopped in, he drove along to my destination, and we shot the breeze for the 15-minute drive. I don’t want to get him in trouble, so I won’t describe his car, but it felt brand new, very clean, and didn’t have a meter. 

According to my driver, SideCar has indeed been paying its drivers –– though, according to its website, they don’t consider drivers “employees” –– an hourly wage to pick up passengers until they can start officially charging for rides. 

My driver, who has worked for SideCar about two months, said he gives about 25 to 30 rides per night on the weekend, and he works at a bakery during the day to earn extra cash. 

When he dropped me off, I offered to tip him and he turned me down. I felt that familiar pang of doubt whenever someone offers something for free, a little voice in my head that whispers, ‘This is weird! Why are you being nice?’

But I just shrugged it off, scooped up my bags, and headed home –– safe and sound. 

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.