Here’s how Sidecar took the lead in the carpool race

It’s been four months since Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar officially launched their carpool features. And although all three rideshare companies have marketed their new carpool feature to the masses, one of them is pulling ahead: Sidecar.

It has expanded its carpool option to the most cities and seen record-breaking use in the process. The company trotted out a host of statistics and facts during a recent interview with me. The overall picture was clear: Sidecar’s carpooling feature is now its main source of growth, and a welcome injection.

Sidecar’s Shared Rides feature is now available in five cities, compared to three for both Lyft and Uber. In the cities where it launched the feature, 40 percent of the rides Sidecar offers are carpool. Uber wouldn’t disclose its percentage of UberPool rides. Lyft told me that as of a few months ago, 30 percent of its rides in San Francisco were Lyft Line, but it declined to share more up-to-date figures or the percentages of other cities.

It’s worth noting that since Lyft does a higher volume of rides than Sidecar, 30 percent of its total is likely far greater in absolute number of rides than 40 percent of Sidecar’s total.

For those who don’t track every change in the transportation industry: This carpooling option is different from these companies’ original “ridesharing” services. Instead of traveling alone with a driver (as with original ridesharing), in carpooling you get matched with another passenger going the same direction, making it cheaper to get across town than if you were traveling solo.

You might be surprised to hear that Sidecar has expanded its carpooling feature more quickly than Uber or Lyft. After all, it’s the company which I have previously referred to as the forgotten stepsister of ridesharing. It’s the smallest, with far less passengers and far less venture capital funding ($35 million) than Uber ($3.3 billion) and Lyft ($332.5 million).

But the company’s smaller size may actually be the reason for its fast carpool expansion. It has been able to focus its resources on the carpooling part of the business, making it a priority above all else. The company raised its latest round, a comparably paltry $15 million, solely on the premise of expanding Shared Rides.

Since introducing Shared Rides, Sidecar’s business has grown in multiples. It had a record week last week, with rides up 60 percent from the average prior weeks, despite the fact that there wasn’t a holiday like New Years or Halloween to propel the growth. The number of rides it offered in Chicago increased 10 times since it launched Shared Rides there in early November.

Contrary to outward appearances, Sidecar was first to market with the carpool feature, giving it a head start on Uber and Lyft. The media narrative around carpooling originally went: Lyft was the creatorUber upstaged Lyft’s big launch with a preemptive release, and Sidecar belatedly chased the pack.

But as this June article shows, Sidecar had actually been doing shared rides months before its competitors — it just hadn’t made much fanfare announcing it. The company claims it started testing Shared Rides in May. It had months of time to hone its operations, and as Uber and Lyft were just launching their SF markets, Sidecar had already tried out its feature with 13,000 passengers.

It has by no means won that war though. Sidecar may have gotten a head start, but its rivals are still far better funded. All it takes is Lyft or Uber placing a priority on carpooling — making it their main raison d’être — for them to take over.

Here’s why Sidecar wasn’t named in the DAs’ ridesharing lawsuit

If you missed the news, the Los Angeles and San Francisco District Attorneys’ Offices are jointly suing Uber for misleading the public about its background checks, among other reasons. San Francisco DA George Gascón explained that they settled with Lyft for $500,000.

But missing from all the hubbub was one prominent name: Sidecar. The DAs didn’t mention the third company in the ridesharing trifecta, which left people wondering why. When the DAs threatened legal action back in September, Sidecar was one of the companies they named.

It turns out Sidecar wasn’t overlooked. The DAs didn’t name it because they’re still in legal negotiations. A Sidecar spokesperson told me, “We applaud the prosecutors for deciding to let the CPUC define regulations for this innovative new category of Shared Rides and we will continue to operate Sidecar Shared Rides in California. However, we disagree with The San Francisco and Los Angeles County District Attorneys’ Office on other issues and will continue to work with them until there is a resolution.”

In other words, Uber wouldn’t comply with the DAs’ requirements, Lyft agreed to, and Sidecar is still haggling. Gascón told Reuters Sidecar could still be sued if it doesn’t reach a peaceful settlement.

Los Angeles and San Francisco sue Uber, settle with Lyft

Uber’s week from hell continued Tuesday, as the offices of the Los Angeles and San Francisco district attorneys filed lawsuits suing the company for unlawful business practices. The entities settled with Lyft for similar grievances.

There’s no news on where Sidecar stands with the DA offices, despite the fact that Sidecar was also threatened with legal action from the city governments back in September.

The DAs news release, as tweeted by New York Times’ Mike Isaac, says that the two offices are filing a civil consumer protection action lawsuit against Uber “for making false or misleading statements to consumers and for engaging in a variety of business practices which violate California law.” The DAs want multiple product and marketing changes from Uber related to how it describes its background checks, charges consumers, and tracks mileage, according to the filing, which was obtained by Re/Code.

Here are the DAs’ major grievances:

  1. Uber misleads customers about its safety procedures, especially in regards to background checks and the “Safe Rides” fee it charges consumers.
  2. Uber hasn’t submitted its mileage tracking technology for review, so the government can ensure it’s not ripping off passengers.
  3. Uber drops off and picks up passengers at the airport without airport approval. Further more, the fee it charges consumers to do so is “misleading.”

The DAs reportedly want Uber to pay restitution to customers for its $1 “Safe Rides” fee, which covers the cost of Uber’s background checks. Since Uber’s background checks aren’t as rigorous as the ones taxis are required to do, the city governments believe the Safe Rides charge misleads customers.

The DAs also want the ridesharing companies to submit their mileage to state government to ensure accurate tracking.

Lyft was amenable to the DAs’ requests, which is why it settled for $500,000, according to Forbes reporter Ellen Huet. In a statement, Lyft spokeswoman Erin Simpson said, “After months of productive conversations, Lyft has entered into an agreement with District Attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles that demonstrates our shared commitment to consumers and innovation.”

Uber, it appears, was not. When reached for comment, Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrand said:

Californians and California lawmakers all agree–Uber is an integral, safe, and established part of the transportation ecosystem in the Golden State. Uber has met with the District Attorneys to address their concerns regarding airport operations, the uberPOOL product, background checks, and operation of the app. We will continue to engage in discussions with the District Attorneys.

The SF and LA DA offices have been considering such action for months now after raising concerns about ridesharing companies’ background check practices. The two institutions threatened Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar in September with legal action if they didn’t change the way they described their background checks to the public. Since transportation networking companies aren’t held to the same rigorous background check standards as cab companies in California, they miss some drivers’ criminal records.

This post was updated several times Tuesday afternoon as more information became available.

On-demand parking app Luxe expands to Los Angeles

One of the more luxurious on-demand companies out there, valet parking app Luxe, is moving into Los Angeles come December. That’s its second market, only a month and a half since launching its first publicly in San Francisco.

Music startup Topspin hit with significant layoffs

Los Angeles-based music marketing and merchandise sales startup Topspin Media laid of a significant number of its staff Wednesday. Music blog hypebot first reported the news, calling it “major layoffs,” and laid off employees said on Twitter that “half“or even “the majority” of the company’s staff was let go. Topspin acknowledged that there have been layoffs when contacted by Gigaom, but declined to comment further on the matter. The company recently teamed up with Spotify to offer artists a way to directly sell merchandise through its service, and it is also slated to power a similar integration for the recently-launched Beats Music service.

Chill.com is closing down December 15

Chill.com is closing down its premium content distribution platform by December 15. Maybe selling content like Louis CK isn’t that easy, after all?

T-Mobile completes iPhone-friendly upgrade in 23 cities

Chicago, Reno, and the LA burbs join Atlanta, Minneapolis and Seattle as the newest areas of the country where an iPhone will work on T-Mobile’s 3G network. T-Mo is now about one-third of the way from completing its nationwide HSPA+ overhaul.

AT&T’s Chicago problem: Why LTE slows down in the Windy City

A new RootMetrics report finds that AT&T’s industry-leading LTE speeds take a big dip in Chicago. The report highlights a problem AT&T has with several of its markets: it doesn’t enough spectrum to offer the big fat pipe it has in the rest of the country.