Lately, if you’re driving around by yourself in Seattle, you’re honestly not trying very hard. Rideshare services have been sprouting up all over Seattle this spring—so many and so conveniently that nobody really has the right to complain about not having any options other than driving alone.
If you’re new to ridesharing, how to choose? The saavy carsharing addict will sign up for all of them, because each one has times when it’s the perfect way to get around! If you’re just starting out in carsharing, you might want to wade in rather than dive, and choose one service to start. So, how to choose?
First, a carsharing service goes beyond simply asking your friend if you can borrow their car for a trip to Ikea. It goes beyond carpool as well. Carsharing is like car rental meets public transportation, all tied up in a community that is focused on getting around with as low of an environmental foot print as possible…without giving up the convenience that four wheels offers.
Three fairly new services that call themselves carsharing are offering options to driving yourself, while claiming to be “green” and “environmentally friendly.” All of these services may be more fun than riding a traditional cab, but are they really better for the planet?
Uber and UberX
Cabs have always been a staple in “getting there” for convenience when driving yourself either isn’t practical or reasonable. The closest to calling a cab in the carshare world is Uber. Uber relies on an Android or iPhone app, which allows you to request a ride, which is then dispatched to you. Your credit card is stored in your account, so you don’t need to have cash or a credit card with you, and tips are included in the price. Drivers could be professionals or individuals who have passed a driving background check.
Whether to call Uber a rideshare is up for debate. Another carshare service, SideCar, recently pointed out on their blog “Uber is not rideshare. Uber is a car service that dispatches vehicles like a taxi. It doesn’t matter if the car is a limo, a taxi, or an unlicensed cab – it’s all just a variation on the theme. By calling their new transportation service “rideshare,” Uber hopes to pollute the term for regulators to protect their business.” In fact, from Uber’s site, it’s difficult to see any difference between traditional car services and Uber. Uber, like cabs, has a base fare, then per mile and per minute fees. There are even flat rates to get to destinations like the airport, all very much like traditional cabs. However, Uber claims on their blog to be stepping into the “carsharing” market, and hopes to be “greener” by launching UberX, which will offer “mostly hybrid vehicles.” Whether or not you agree if that counts as “greener” enough to call it environmental in Seattle’s culture, Uber is simple as far as getting a ride goes. You launch the app, request a ride, and you’ll soon be picked up and on your way.
SideCar and Lyft
SideCar and Lyft are in some ways similar to Uber. There are apps to request rides. I’m writing about them together because they’re both based on “volunteer” drivers and ask for a “donation” from the passenger instead of a set fee. Both services rely on ratings—both drivers and passengers receive stars based on how well they behaved. Both services rely on drivers using their own cars, which for both must be a four-door that is 2000 or newer. Drivers must have clean driving records and of course own smart phones. Really, the main difference seems to be that Lyft requires cars to don a pink moustache when they are on duty. That for some riders could be either the frosting on the cake or a dealbreaker. Otherwise, the two services are almost identical. Are either really “ridesharing?” It doesn’t seem so. Both seem more like volunteer taxi services, and the City of Seattle might agree. Currently, there is debate over whether Lyft and SideCar should be regulated (and taxed and licensed) like traditional taxi services.
Whether they are environmental options is up for debate as well. Would you be driving your own car if you couldn’t request a ride from Uber, SideCar or Lyft? Most users probably would. So, it’s a matter of your car on the road or someone else’s—logically the models don’t seem to actually do as they claim and take cars off of the road. However, if you combine these services with other forms of green transportation, like walking, biking or taking the bus, and use these services in case of emergency or inconvenience (such as when it starts pouring down rain and you have a mile to walk still to get home), then it’s possible that they kept your car off of the road that day. Any service that encourages people to use busses and their own two feet, knowing that in a crisis they can call an alternative cab is a good thing for shifting the way people think about commuting.