Tech, transportation collide in courtroom

Apps that make it easier to hitch a ride or hail a cab have come under fire for violating transportation laws, but companies such as SideCar, Lyft, and Uber aren’t letting setbacks bring them to a grinding halt.

An accepted request in SideCar's app

When SideCar announced plans to offer rides in Austin, Texas, for the just-begun South by Southwest festival, city officials fought back with an ordinance that threatened to impound vehicles suspected being illegal cabs for hire. SideCar sidestepped the ordinance by offering free rides and paying drivers as “brand ambassadors” during the conference; on Friday, it also sued the city.

SideCar, which describes itself as a donation-based ride-sharing service, is trying to branch out from the West Coast to the rest of the U.S., but has run into roadblocks.

SideCar CEO Sunil Paul in a Friday blog post said SideCar doesn’t violate Austin city laws because SideCar is not a transportation service. The company doesn’t hire drivers or provide cars, but offers a platform for drivers and passengers to connect.

Apps plan to expand

Find a driver near you using Uber

It’s the same battle being fought across the country, as transportation apps begin to expand their services. SideCar, Lyft, Uber, and other mobile offerings that allow you to find a ride or hail a cab from your smartphone are considered a threat to traditional taxi companies and in possible violation of transportation laws requiring insurance and safety precautions for riders and drivers.

“This lawsuit is bigger than Austin, Texas,” Paul wrote. “What happens here matters for the entire sharing economy. Sharing resources is not a crime–it’s a solution for a better and more sustainable way of life. Rideshare is good for Austin and we’re going to defend this position in Austin City Court.”

The company is soliciting support for its petition to the city council.

Even in San Francisco, the hub of early tech adoption, smartphone-based transportation services were considered illegal until Uber and Lyft settled with the California Public Utilities Commission less than two months ago.

Mobile transportation apps are finding it difficult to set up shop in major metropolitan areas, so smaller cities might have to wait awhile to get access.

Lyft's Android app

Cab competition heats up

The intersection of tech and transportation is murky territory, even when authorities give an idea the green light.

New York City’s plans to let people hail yellow cabs from an app were halted on Thursday by the State Supreme Court after the for-hire transportation industry sued the city. The court’s argument: Hailing a cab via app is a prearranged pick-up, and would hurt livery companies.

According to the New York Times, city officials think the legal challenge will be dismissed and the cab-hailing app will go forward as planned.

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