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Hate Uber? Sidecar wants to be your friendlier alternative

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Ride-sharing app Sidecar has spent its two-year life in the shadow of Uber, whose name has become synonymous with traditional taxi substitutes. Today, though, the service has officially relaunched, with an eye towards getting drivers to compete for customers by offering a personal touch. Its new iOS and Android apps ask drivers to create more detailed profiles that will make them stand out, complete with pictures and notes about themselves or car "amenities" like phone chargers or free water. They can also set their own fees per ride, and users will pick specific drivers, sorting by things like price, proximity, and quality of car — if you want a nice vehicle, you might be willing to pay more. You can also "favorite" drivers, who will then show up at the top of your list if they're online and in the area.

Along with releasing new versions of its iOS and Android apps, Sidecar has announced that it's received funding from major investor Union Square Ventures. In a blog post, USV partner Fred Wilson described the new app as an Etsy to Uber's Amazon. While Uber is generally aimed at full-time taxi drivers, Sidecar has always focused on ordinary drivers who want to pick up some extra cash. At one point, it called the prices these drivers set "donations," but now they're just flat fees, although they're fixed and helpfully easy to see.

An Etsy to Uber's Amazon?

Over its rise to prominence, Uber has made some unpopular decisions. It's implemented a surge pricing system that raises prices when there's high demand, used underhanded tactics to get an edge on competing services, and dodged responsibility when Uber drivers are involved in crashes or other altercations. Wilson and Sidecar are promising an experience that's less efficient but friendlier. "The human touch means allowing riders to see the drivers in app and choose the one they most want to ride with," writes Wilson. "The human touch means giving the rider a real fixed price instead of some multiplier that goes up whenever you most need a ride."

Sidecar launched in 2012, and it's currently available in Los Angeles, San Diego, the Bay Area, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Charlotte, and Washington, DC. It may be less abrasive than Uber, but it's still been dinged for operating a ride service without state approval in Austin, Los Angeles, and other major markets. That may be changing, however. Last year, California became the first state to create official regulations for ride-sharing apps, and cities like New York are testing the waters for transportation startups despite opposition from existing taxi and limousine services.