From Nick Barron. Follow him on Twitter @nbarron; email him at nick[AT]borderstan.com.
A new venture-backed mode of transportation is coming to DC, hoping to give everyone in our city access to a “friend” with a car.
SideCar, currently operating in San Francisco, where the company is based, and Seattle, is actively recruiting people in DC who have vehicles to be drivers. SideCar is a mobile application for iPhone and Android phones. Users request a ride from a driver through the app.
Though the company also published a job posting on LinkedIn for a DC City Manager, it declined to say when it would be rolling out in the nation’s capital.
“Once the request is accepted, drivers can be viewed approaching in real-time,” says SideCar in a press release. “Riders can make a voluntary donation at the end of the ride.”
While SideCar makes a tip suggestion to users within its app, there is no guarantee a driver will earn money for providing a ride. After all, don’t we all have that one friend who never chips in for gas money?
As for safety concerns, SideCar says it vets every driver, and every ride arranged through their app is tracked. Plus, donations from riders to drivers are made within the app, so there’s no need to carry cash.
SideCar was founded last year in San Francisco. The company completed a $10 million Series A financing in October, and just announced on Valentine’s Day it had purchased Heyride, another ride-sharing company serving Austin.
From Alden Leonard. Contact him at alden[AT]borderstan.com and follow him @aldenleonard on Twitter.
The Uber conundrum took yet another turn this week as the DC Council briefly considered an amendment that would restrict the car service’s ability to operating only as a luxury alternative.
Uber, the tech-enabled car service that brings luxury cars to the doorstep of anyone with a smartphone, has been embattled by the DC Taxicab Commission since its launch last December.
Yesterday’s proposal was an attempt to bring the car service into compliance with DC law, and was the fruit of several months of collaboration between councilmembers, the Taxicab Commission and Uber representatives.
The sticking spot in these negotiations was a proposed price floor that would force Uber to operate only as a “sedan class” service. The price floor mandated that Uber charge a minimum fare of $15 – three times the taxicab minimum – crippling its plans to expand into lower-cost transportation services in the District, as it has in New York and other cities.
In a characteristically impassioned e-mail sent yesterday, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick denounced the price floor, accusing members of the DC Council of stifling entrepreneurs, and calling on his supporters to reject this politically motivated interference (yes, he went there). Twitter-savvy Uber users took the cause viral, and in the 12 hours that followed, Council members received tens of thousands of Tweets and e-mails urging them to strike down the amendment. Many undoubtedly came from an online petition at change.org in support of Uber.
Yesterday morning, Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) announced that she would do just that, but expressed disappointment at the breakdown of what she believed was an amicable agreement. “Uber contacted me and asked to work together to legalize services like [theirs] in the District, and I have met with Uber many times, negotiated in good faith and believed that I had reached an agreement with them last week,” Cheh wrote in an e-mail.
Despite being caught off guard, Cheh stated her intention to reintroduce the amendment – likely without the $15 minimum – before the council. “I am flabbergasted but flexible,” she said. In a time when things move as fast as Uber, she probably has the right attitude.
In fact, that line proves all too true. Late yesterday Councilman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) introduced an amendment to the taxi modernization bill recognizing Uber’s operations as legitimate under DC law. The amendment, which leaves out the contested price controls, was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Micahel A. Brown (I-At Large), David Catania (I-At-Large and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).
Borderstan welcomes Alden Leonard to its team of contributors. Alden helps cover local government and arts topics for Borderstan. He advocates for good causes by day and is an artist and arts supporter by night. Check out his paintings at Alden Leonard.
Recall of Gray, Brown in the Works
Local media was abuzz last week after activist Frederick Butler filed paperwork to recall Mayor Vincent Gray and City Council Chair Kwame Brown. But the process, which could bring about a recall election of the city’s highest elected officials, faces significant barriers. In order to even get on the ballot, Butler must furnish signatures from 10% of voters (about 45,000) to show that the recall has sufficient public support. To give some perspective, a mayoral candidate has to collect just 3,000 signatures. And did I mention this all has to happen in 180 days?
This high bar has stopped many would-be crusaders from attempting to achieve a recall, but not all: in fact, every DC Mayor except Walter Washington has had a recall attempt filed against him. Even so, the DC City Council recently debated lowering the signature requirement to 5%, but it remained at 10% in the final bill as passed by Brown’s Council. Brown offered no explanation for maintaining the high requirement, but Gray issued a response to the larger allegations facing him and the Council Chair. Defending his work as Mayor, Gray reminded voters that “DC is the most desirable place to live in the United States.”
I guess we can’t argue with him there, can we?
Troubles Deepen for Embattled Car Service
Shots have been fired in the battle between car service Uber and Ron Linton, Chairman of the DC Taxicab Commission. As we reported on Friday, Linton recently accused Uber, which allows users to arrange rides from off-duty luxury cars, of operating illegally in the District. Linton made good on his vow to take swift action against Uber, arranging a sting Friday morning that resulted in an Uber driver receiving two costly citations and having his car impounded for the weekend.
Uber responded robustly to Linton’s actions with statements affirming its compliance with DC regulations. “We’ve dotted our i’s,” insisted DC manager Rachel Holt. But the smartphone-powered service also outsourced much of the fight to its tech-savvy clientele, whose enthusiasm for Uber drive its success. In a blog post titled “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Uberness: @Uber_DC needs YOU!”, Uber calls upon its wildly loyal fans to make the Taxicab Commission hear their voices.
Mr. Linton, batten down the hatches.
Artist Exodus from DC: The Unseen Premiums of Swank Neighborhoods
With this month’s closing of one of DC’s last remaining artist havens, DCentric raises the question of whether the District’s high rent and rapid gentrification are stifling its creative residents. Gold Leaf Studio at 4th and I Streets, which has been a major creative hub since it opened over a decade ago, will close its doors in the next few weeks due to rising rent. Area art enthusiasts are bemoaning the close, saying it is symbolic of a greater creative exodus to the more affordable suburbs.
We all know living in a premium neighborhood comes at a high price, but is this hidden extra cost worth it?
14th & U Boutiques Make National Media Splash
For the uninitiated into the world of women’s magazines, Lucky is a magazine that bills itself as the “magazine about shopping and style.” In their most recent issue, the publication featured a shopping guide for DC. As Washingtonian notes, the boutiques on 14th and U Streets NW got decent ink. They are curious as to what you think got left off the list, I am curious as to why Elizabeth Banks agreed to be photographed in that outfit. What are those Swan Lake like cutouts? If you missed our series on the perfect holiday outfit (for ladies), check out New Year’s Eve is Coming: Still Looking for the Perfect Outfit?
When is a Teahouse More than a Tea Shop?
Teaism is a great tea shop that happens to have delicious bento box lunches and salty oat cookies. It is apparently also the front line of a polite but heated feud between Tamils and Sinhalese from Sri Lanka. As the The Washington Post points out, while the city is a hotbed of public protests and demonstrations, it is also a home for many that must navigate political waters while shopping and drinking tea. The piece goes further into the number of foreign expatriates that practice advocacy and avoidance in the hopes of political goals at home and relative peace in their adopted home.
Cabdrivers Hate New Service, Uber
TBD reports that Uber was among the list of complaints aired at the Taxicab Commission meeting recently. Uber bills itself as “everyone’s private driver” and uses smartphones to reserve and snag a ride with their fleet. So is it a fancy cab service operating illegally, or is it a worthy competitor? I suppose the answer could be both.
Commissioner Linton declared they were operating illegally and without a contract; Uber says they are a private booking service, ergo not a cab service and entered into operations in DC after many discussions about their legality with policymakers. While the legal issues are hashed out, we can focus on the benefits. Greater Greater Washington penned a little love note to the service and the competition they bring to DC. Have you used them? Are they competition or just an upscale alternative for those who thumb their noses as taxicabs as transportation for commoners?