While Uber and Lyft duke it out over which can provide the buzziest and most consistent mobile peer-to-peer ride-hailing experience, competitor Sidecar is trying for something a little bit different.
Starting today, as has already been rolled out in Chicago and Los Angeles, all Sidecar drivers will be able to set their own pricing, and passengers will be able to choose from a list of drivers based on how far away they are, how nice their car is, how positive their ratings are, and how much they charge.
This marketplace model may well be too complicated for some riders who just want the quickest and cheapest ride from Point A to Point B, but Sidecar CEO Sunil Paul said he hopes it will help drivers build reputations and personalities for themselves a la Airbnb, eBay and Etsy.
Meanwhile, passengers can pick different rides according to their needs and preferences at different times of the day. For instance, in the Chicago and Los Angeles testing, women drivers tended to receive a higher percentage of women riders, Paul said. Sidecar also found that driver hours grew 50 percent in the marketplace model, with Los Angeles rides up 20 percent and Chicago rides up 60 percent.
Sidecar has long included some distinctive features such as required input of destinations, so drivers know where they are heading before accepting a hail. Drivers can also set price and distance minimums, and riders can favorite drivers so they can find them again later.
Live in eight U.S. markets, Sidecar has arranged a total of 1 million rides since it launched two years ago.
Paul raised a $10 million round for Sidecar on the basis of this marketplace model in August 2013, but kept it quiet until the feature was ready to roll out. The round comes from Union Square Ventures — with partner Fred Wilson having joined the board — along with Correlation Ventures, Avalon Ventures and SoftBank Capital.
However, this otherwise respectable round of funding comes at a time when Uber has already raised at a $3.5 billion valuation and Lyft is trying to raise at a valuation exceeding $1 billion, according to multiple sources.
“There are people who think Uber is going to walk away with it all,” said Paul. “But this market is not like that. Switching costs are not very high.”