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Hitchhiking Goes Digital: Ridesharing Apps Make It Easy to Get Around

No car? No ride? No problem. App developers have been coming out of the woodwork recently to introduce numerous new ridesharing apps for the car-less. While primarily useful in more densely populated urban settings, these apps are turning people’s smartphones into on-demand car services.

Though services like Uber have been around for a couple years now, the new companies are not official livery services like taxis or hired drivers. They don’t even hire the drivers themselves. Instead they transfer “reimbursement” and “donations” to drivers volunteering the services of their time and vehicle. The apps recommend rates based on time and distance that riders transfer through the app with a registered credit card. The organizing company keeps 20-40%. Typically, both drivers and riders are screened and vetted by the company and both criminal and driving records are checked, easing doubts about safety and reliability.

SideCar is the most recent to launch. Offering real-time ridesharing through its app, this service lets regular car owners make some extra money by giving rides to those who request it. It operates on the “donation” principle and no payment is required, though if a passenger decides to forego this courtesy he can probably expect a quick kick to the curb.

Another new service provider is Zimride’s Lyft. With prices that are competitive with, or even cheaper than, most cab rates, they are poised to make a dent in the business. Though the number of transportation requests can be quite variable, Zimride co-founder John Zimmer has it solved. “We’ve learned over time about how to take the right steps at the right time with supply and demand,” he says.

These new ridesharing startups come with a variety of names, though most offer fairly similar service: Need a car? You got it. They come with secondary benefits, too. More people sharing rides means fewer cars on the road, easing traffic congestion and reducing carbon emissions. Though someday we might have a fleet of taxpayer-owned, self-driving vehicles chauffeuring us around, for now these carpooling and ridesharing services can benefit us all.

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