News & Politics

6 Apps That Are Way Cheaper Than Car Ownership

A cheat sheet to Uber, Sidecar, and all the other apps for on-demand travel.

Photograph courtesy of Kārlis Dambrāns.

It’s now easier than ever to get around Washington without owning a car or carrying cash—even in areas without deep Metro penetration. All you need to access these app-based transportation options is a credit card and a smartphone.


What is it? A ride in a luxury town car or the personal vehicle of a participating driver. Pickups as far west as Prince William County, as far south as Stafford County, and as far north as Germantown. Wait times average 3½ minutes in the District.

How much will it cost? UberX (personal cars): $2 base fare, 20 cents a minute and $1.02 a mile, and $1 “safe ride” fee (cheaper than a taxi). UberBlack (town cars, $15 minimum): $7 base fare, 40 cents a minute and $3.40 a mile. Tips included. Costs more under “surge pricing” when demand is highest.

What’s it good for? Riding into the District from the suburbs on weekends (car seats are available) and early-morning trips to the airport from Metro and taxi deserts.


What is it? A ride in the personal car of participating drivers; available in DC and immediate suburbs. Cars (2005 models and newer) sport magenta “glowstaches” on the dashboard. Wait times are three minutes downtown, longer in the suburbs.

How much will it cost? Cheaper than a taxi, fares are $2.03 base plus 26 cents a minute and $1.26 a mile, as well as a $1.50 “trust and safety” fee. Tips not included. As with Uber, fares rise under “prime time” pricing when demand peaks.

What’s it good for? Bar hopping in the city, going to meetings, sending the kids and the nanny to the National Arboretum.


What is it? Know the price up front for a ride in the personal car of a participating driver. You tap your destination into the app and available drivers pop up with their car make, ETA, and what they’ll charge. Available in DC and immediate suburbs.

How much will it cost? The driver sets the fare according to demand under Sidecar guidelines ($3.08 base fare plus 22 cents a minute and $1.05 a mile). Tips are not included. You can cut the cost if you let your driver pick up another rider going in the same direction (called a “shared ride”).

What’s it good for? Budget-conscious passengers and people who are picky about what they roll up in. Also, meeting strangers in a shared ride on the way to Union Station.


What is it? By-the-hour car rentals for round trips. Reserve in advance; wave your member card over the windshield scanner—the car unlocks and the keys are inside. Cars of different models are parked at 390 locations around DC and suburban Metro stops.

How much will it cost? $70 annual membership fee; rentals start at $8.25 a hour. Gas is included, but you can go only 180 miles before being charged 45 cents for each additional mile.

What’s it good for? Trips to Ikea or your favorite out-of-the-way ethnic restaurant, especially on weekdays—procrastinators will have trouble booking the car nearest them for last-minute weekend trips.


What is it? By-the-minute rentals for one-way trips, in Smart cars. Access the map of available cars, tap to book, then wave your phone over the windshield scanner—the car unlocks and the keys are inside. You can leave the vehicle in any legal DC parking spot.

How much will it cost? $35 to join; rentals are 41 cents a minute—roughly $12 a half hour. One hour of use is capped at $14.99. Gas is included.

What’s it good for? Quick trips to or between Metro deserts in DC: Georgetown to Tenleytown, say, or Trinidad to Langdon (where Echostage is). There are 500 cars in the inventory, so best to book when your time frame is flexible.

Capital Bikeshare

What is it? Check the Spotcycle app to see where bikes are available at the 351 stations in DC, Montgomery County, Arlington, and Alexandria. (The app also shows which stations have open slots near your destination.) Stick your key fob into the bike rack and ride.

How much will it cost? $85 a year, $28 a month, $17 for three days, or $8 a day. First 30 minutes are free, $1.50 for the next 30 minutes, and $3 for the half hour after that. Past 90 minutes (or $4.50 total), it’s an additional $6 per half hour.

What’s it good for? Riding to or from work or the gym if you can make it in less than 30 minutes, as well as Nationals Park (which has extra docking corrals).

Up and Coming Apps

Just launched: Bridj, which crowd-sources rides for commuters in vans. Could relieve congestion on Metro trains and buses as well as slug lines.

Coming someday: An app from DC’s taxi commission (working name: One City, One Taxi) for hails and payments via smartphone for all 7,000 city cabs.

What we dreamt up: Scoootrr—Vespas by the hour! (What we’ll probably get instead: Capital Recumbentshare.)

This article appears in our June 2015 issue of Washingtonian.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.