Need a Ride in Austin? No Cash Necessary

Mary Catherine Wellons | CNBC

Getting around Austin during South by Southwest can be a nightmare. If you're not staying downtown—a mistake I made—you have to get very creative about your transportation.

The start-up community that causes the problem by descending on the city has come up with a few handy apps that make it possible to avoid headaches. Even better, you don't need cash!

(Read More: SXSW-Bound 'Buspreneurs' Found Start-Ups on the Way)

Here's how I navigated Austin over 72 hours:

  • SideCar: I tried out this ridesharing app my first night in town. The concept is simple: Plug in your credit card and contact information, and select your destination. A nearby driver is alerted and an estimated wait time provided. Sidecar recommends how much to tip, but the passenger makes the decision.

    SideCar provided SXSW attendees with free rides. My first attempt at using the app was unsuccessful—the driver never showed up. I sent a second request, and in about 15 minutes John showed up in his Chevy Impala and got me safely to my destination.

  • Uber: I pressed this app into service on my second night at SXSW. As with SideCar, you store your credit card and contact details on the app, so money never changes hands. Passengers can choose between pedicab, UberX (free) or Lux. Unfortunately, the Uber fleet was fully booked, so I ended up taking a cab.

  • TukTuk: Perhaps the most fun form of transit, these Red Hat-sponsored, golf-cart-style rides were scattered all over Austin. At the last minute, I took one to get to Newark Mayor Cory Booker's keynote on social media. I made it in the nick of time—and it was totally free.

  • Square: Most cabs and pedicabs at SXSW use the Square app. Simply swipe your credit card, sign and choose a delivery option for the receipt. I chose "email receipt" each time, making it easy to keep track of expenses on my phone.

(Read More: Austin Buzz)

Source: Uber

While I didn't use the service, Car2Go, Daimler's car-sharing program, set up shop in downtown Austin. And Chevrolet has been running a "Catch A Chevy" shuttle service using Cruze Eco and Malibu vehicles. Using hashtag #chevysxsw, you could also tweet a request for a ride.

In the end, with a few key apps and a mobile device, getting around Austin wasn't so bad if you don't mind waiting.

(Read More: Gadgets Grab Buzz)

Contact SXSW

  • Julia Boorstin

    Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.

  • Ari Levy

    Ari Levy is CNBC.com's senior technology reporter in San Francisco.

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