One thing that irritates me about so-called "rideshare" services like SideCar and Lyft is the silly way they pretend that they are not brokering business transactions. Rather than being charged a "fare" for services rendered, riders are prompted with an optional "suggested donation." Technically, the rider could choose to pay a lesser amount or nothing at all, but that behavior isn't sustainable as nobody would pick up a passenger with a history of stiffing drivers on fares.

"SideCar is not a taxi," SideCar vice president of communications, Margaret Ryan insisted in an interview last April. "There are no shifts, drivers drive whenever they like, and payment is voluntary." Well, not exactly. SideCar has long guaranteed minimum hourly incomes to drivers who cover certain shifts. And as of today, according to an email the company sent to drivers, this fictional voluntary payment policy just got even harder to believe:

Passenger Payment Updates:
Never again will you need to hesitate about accepting a high priced ride. As we work towards preauthorizing rider credit card information, Sidecar will now guarantee payment on ALL RIDES. That's right, any ride you complete you will be paid for, regardless of declined rider payment. A few things to mention:

  • Beginning today, Sidecar will guarantee payment on all completed rides
  • This change will not reflect any previous rides completed before today with pending transactions
  • If payment is pending 14 days after the ride took place, Sidecar will pay the driver the suggested donation amount
  • Our team is actively working towards adding additional systems that will significantly reduce payment processing time even further

SideCar provides a great service, and I'd love to find a way for these companies to survive. But merely pretending these are not cars for hire is not reason enough to exempt "rideshare" from the same rules, regulations, and license fees imposed on the traditional for-hire drivers with which they directly compete.

This "suggested donation" thing—a once-clever ruse intended to help the companies squeeze through loopholes in local law—is simply not believable. And at this point in the public debate, as council members prepare to regulate these new services, SideCar and Lyft only discredit themselves by clinging to this obvious fiction.