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To avoid the cops, SideCar making all SXSW rides free

The startup, which lets drivers pick up riders like a taxi service, was risking having its drivers charged with a crime for charging riders. Making all SXSW rides free may be a solution.


AUSTIN, Texas--SideCar wants to avoid the cops.

Last week, the Austin City Council ruled that services built around drivers charging riders a fee without the appropriate license were illegal and constituted a crime. That meant that SideCar drivers, who are expected to be prowling the streets of the Texas capital during SXSW this week, risked getting arrested.

SideCar is built around letting drivers who have extra seats in their cars make a little money by picking up riders, who use the company's app to call for a lift. The service is similar to that available in a number of cities, like Lyft.

Today, SideCar announced that in an attempt to keep its drivers from risking being charged with a crime, it was making all rides free during SXSW.

That decision was, the company said, merely a stop-gap, since it doesn't consider its service illegal

Last week, Austin City Council passed a law that would make sharing a ride in exchange for cash a punishable crime. This ordinance should not apply to SideCar. SideCar is legal and people who use SideCar's app to share rides are not acting illegally. Sharing resources is not a crime and we're prepared to defend this position....

We've reached out to city officials to get assurance people who use the SideCar app to share a ride for cash will not be cited or have their cars impounded. We're still waiting to hear back. But SXSW can't wait!

The Austin Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

SideCar said in its post that it will have more than 100 cars on the roads of Austin during SXSW, and that all rides will be free through March 17. What remains to be seen is whether the city's police agree that its service is no longer illegal under the terms of the city council's ruling.