Sunil Paul believes social media is displacing the car as the most valuable tool in life’s tool kit, and the San Francisco–based entrepreneur has taken that idea to its logical conclusion by turning a smartphone app into a car service. SideCar, which launched in San Francisco in June, quietly rolled out in Seattle last fall, connecting people who need rides with people who have cars and are headed that way anyway.

It’s as simple as it sounds: Car owners who’ve been thoroughly vetted by SideCar staff get pinged when someone in their area needs a ride. At the end of the trip, the virtual hitchhikers pay the drivers what they feel the trip was worth via credit card info on file with SideCar and the company takes a percentage. Paul plans to branch out across the country, but he came to Seattle second because it has a lot in common with San Francisco: tech-savvy residents, a culture of innovation, and a fondness of the “share economy.”

The app is about more than adding transit options in cities like Seattle with subpar rapid mass transit systems, though. It’s good for the planet. Paul knows the car isn’t going away anytime soon, so SideCar is his conservationist compromise. “What we’re doing,” he says, “is the single largest lever we have as a society to reduce carbon emissions.”

 

Published: February 2013