After medical marijuana, Sidecar eyes alcohol and pharmaceuticals

The ride-sharing startup has big ambitions in a hotly competitive field

Sidecar's mobile app.

Sidecar's mobile app.

Earlier this month, Sidecar expanded its mobile ride hailing service to deliver medical marijuana in San Francisco. It's not the only substance the startup wants to bring to your door.

Sidecar is in talks with potential partners to deliver alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs to its users, said CEO Sunil Paul. And in case you're craving them badly, it will get them to you in an hour. It's not yet delivering those items but plans to by the end of the year, Paul said in an interview Wednesday.

Sidecar's ride hailing service works similarly to that of Uber and Lyft, with a few differences. The app lets riders choose from a list of drivers who are able to set their own fares. And the company claims to be more transparent than rivals when surge pricing is in effect, specifying the exact fare up front. Still, Sidecar hasn't proved as popular as Uber and Lyft and is active in far fewer cities.

It sees delivery services as a way to grow its business and broaden its reach. Last year, Sidecar began partnering with companies selling food, flowers and groceries to provide same-day delivery of those items in San Francisco. Eat24, the online food order service, is a major partner. Then came medical marijuana, through a partnership with weed dispensary Meadow.

Deliveries now comprise roughly half of Sidecar's trips in San Francisco. The company also operates delivery services in Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston. Sidecar works with each partner to determine the fee Sidecar collects for deliveries.

To explain his interest in alcohol and pharmaceuticals, Paul cited the sheer challenge as one motivator. Drivers would be trained to perform such deliveries, he said. In the case of pharmaceuticals, drivers would need training to comply with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which in part governs privacy around people's health care information.

But Sidecar faces plenty of competition in the area of app-driven, on-demand delivery. Uber operates its Rush courier service in New York City and New Jersey, providing fast delivery of a range of items including food. Postmates offers a popular app for providing deliveries of food and random items like office supplies within an hour in a number of cities including Seattle, Boston and New York.

Other upstarts like Drizly and Klink partner with local liquor stores and retailers to provide delivery of alcohol in certain cities across the U.S. And larger players like Amazon and Google are active in same-day delivery services more broadly.

For Sidecar, delivery services are another way of re-thinking transportation using smarpthones, Paul said. "You use a car to move around and run errands," he said, "whether dry cleaning, grocery shopping, running to the restaurant, or running to the dispensary to get your medicine."

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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