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Council looks to tap the brakes on Seattle ride-sharing

The City Council is taking some preliminary steps toward regulating Lyft, Sidecar and UberX
There's still plenty of interest as the City Council's debate about how to regulate ride-sharing continues.

There's still plenty of interest as the City Council's debate about how to regulate ride-sharing continues. Photo: Bill Lucia


Ride-share drivers using apps like Lyft, Sidecar and UberX to connect with passengers could soon face new city-imposed licensing and vehicle inspection requirements, if the City Council adopts regulations similar to the ones they discussed at a committee meeting on Thursday.

The council's central staff will work to draft new "near-term" regulations over the next four weeks. If approved, the rules could also set minimum liability insurance requirements for the companies that run the apps. The prospect of limited regulation did little to placate the providers of traditional taxi and for-hire car services, who say their new competitors are getting a free pass from the city.

At the meeting, representatives from the council’s central staff and the Department of Finance and Administrative Services presented the council members with two near-term options for regulating ride-shares and three long-term options for regulating all of the city’s “taxi-like vehicles.” One of the near-term options would've completely stopped ride-sharing in the city, the other, which the council favored, allows it to continue with new restrictions. The council asked for near-term options because the full-fledged revision of the city’s taxi-like vehicle regulations, which the council is currently debating, will take months to craft and approve.

While the members of the Committee on Taxi, For Hire and Limousine Regulations agreed that they would not shut down the ride-share companies, the contentious debate about how exactly to regulate the evolving app-based businesses remains far from resolved.

“I just don't see how it works,” said Councilmember Bruce Harrell.

“I don't really like the notion, the wide open notion, of how we're treating ride-shares,” he said. “I think we need to restrict them more.” Harrell was the most vocal supporter of imposing a cap on the number of ride-share vehicles. “If you're issuing a finite number of taxi and for-hire licenses, it doesn't make sense to allow ride-shares to keep doing what they're doing,” he said. The council's central staff did not include a ride-share cap in the near-term regulatory options and it is unclear whether it will be part of the rules they draft in the coming weeks.

Committee chair Sally Clark and Councilmember Mike O'Brien both seemed inclined to allow the ride-share companies to continue operating, if they and the drivers using their apps adhere to city-mandated licensing, safety and insurance requirements.

Uber’s general manager in Seattle, Brooke Steger, said the company is open to working with the city on new regulations. “It’s perfectly reasonable for there to be a specific driver’s license,” she said, adding that if the city hired more inspectors to cut down on wait times, the company would cooperate with city-specified vehicle inspections. She also said Uber opposed a cap on ride-share vehicles. “As we’ve seen with taxis,” she said, "that’s not an environment that benefits small business owners.”

UberX driver Elias Guda said he would be willing to get a for-hire license, “If that’s what I have to do to keep paying my bills, or buying diapers for my kid.” Guda said he was unemployed from 2011 until he started driving for UberX last July. He said that after signing up to use the app he bought a $30,000 2013 Toyota Prius and that he likes driving because the flexible hours allow him to attend community college and to spend time with his three daughters. “If I have to make small changes, that’s better than when they say they just want to shut it down,” he said.

Licensed for-hire drivers were displeased with the outcome of the meeting. “It’s bullshit,” said Walelegn Balcha, who has worked as a for-hire driver for three years. “This is our livelihood.” Balcha said he pays $450 each month for a commercial insurance policy and $1,050 annually for his for-hire vehicle license. He says he can’t compete with drivers using personal auto insurance and unlicensed vehicles.

As they consider long-term policy changes, the councilmembers are debating whether to allow for-hire vehicle owners to convert their vehicle licenses to taxicab licenses. The switch would allow the drivers to pick up riders who hail them on the street and to charge metered fares. Under current city laws, for-hire drivers charge flat rates and all of their fares need to be pre-arranged. The number of taxicab vehicle licenses in Seattle is currently capped at 688.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Sep 27, 8:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Can someone remind me why there is a quota on the number of licensed taxis? I agree it would be unfair to taxi drivers if there is no quota on ride shares.

On the other hand, I don't think ride shares would work very well with a quota. Some people would make a full time job of driving. Others might do it once a month. How could you possibly determine what the quota should be? Or should we effectively require that ride share drivers do it full time?

Same goes for licenses, by the way. If it is too much cost or overhead to get a ride share license, we would effectively killing the program's flexibility and simply relegating it as another taxi service.

pragmatic

Posted Sat, Sep 28, 7:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Why the cap? Lobbying and campaign contributions, followed by inertia. Does any other government around here impose a cap like this on any other enterprise?

This will be a good test of whether the City Council is infected with fear of special interest lobbying. Neither the public nor the innovators want the cap to survive, so there will be only one plausible explanation if it does.

simorgh

Posted Sun, Sep 29, 11:26 a.m. Inappropriate

This isn't about taxi service. If the gypsy cab drivers for Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar were black, and the established drivers were white, the "progressives" of Seattle would be up in arms about the dire threat of unlicensed, unregulated, predatory competition.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Sep 27, 10:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Regulating vehicles that operate businesses on city streets is a good thing. But they are not all "taxi-like." The taxi companies have well-paid lobbyists trying to force all these businesses into their model. O'Brien's standard response to anything new and different is: "it sure is complicated out there, let's study the data." That's because he has no idea how to deal with innovation. And because he's trying to figure out what his opinion should be when he's squeezed between competing interests: the taxicab companies who think he's their buddy, and the enviro-friendly ride-share and small cars who pull at his enviro heartstrings. This situation is not so complicated, and there is already plenty of data. It's just the council has punted for over a year. This City Council is falling into the trap of "let staff think for us." How about leading your staff to some different ways of thinking? Why is the City Council trying to pre-determine the number of taxis, Car2Gos, and Lyft/Sidecar/UberX services that Seattle needs? Think about licensing and regulating vehicle safety standards, liability insurance, and drivers' licenses. And then let all these companies compete - they offer different kinds of customer service, and the customers will determine if they are services worth buying. Tax the company revenues, and fine the companies that violate the safety and insurance regulations. Time to think beyond the "that's the way we've always done things 'round here" answer.

Posted Fri, Sep 27, 1:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Now that I've learned that the cars with the big black mustaches are "taxi-like" free market online vendors, I've seen a lot of them. Every single driver talking on their cell phones while driving: cell-in-hand-to-ear.

Impressive role models for the company they drive thru.

Posted Sun, Sep 29, 11:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Yeah, but the drivers are white, and for Seattle's "progressives" that's good enough. It's like the climate change stuff, which isn't about pollution but about wanting higher taxes. The desire for Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar isn't about bad taxi service, it's about wanting white drivers. Seattle's "progressives" are congenitally incapable of ever once saying what they actually mean or think.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Sep 27, 10:26 a.m. Inappropriate

In fact, I envision a ride share model that is quite free-market based. Those licensed as regular taxis would keep the fixed rate metering in practice now. Ride shares companies (not the drivers), alternatively, could freely set whatever rate they determine is appropriate.

Here's how it would work. A large pool of drivers would sign up. Some would choose to drive full time. The majority would choose part time or occasional. In times and locations of higher demand, the ride share company's algorithm would up the rate, meaning more drivers would be make themselves available to accept a ride. If there's more demand than drivers, the rate simply goes up. Likewise the opposite - if there are too many drivers, the rate goes down.

What would this do? It means that, first, you could take a regular taxi if you don't want to deal with flexible rates. Second, it means that if you want a ride at a high-demand time and location (such as after a ball game), you will pay more. That might encourage some people to wait for a regular taxi to be free or take public transit. That's ok by me. If you want a bargain priced ride, try to choose to go during times of low demand.

Is this something taxi drivers would be more willing to accept? Does it help protect their business (fixed rates, dependable availability)?

pragmatic

Posted Sat, Sep 28, 5:35 p.m. Inappropriate

The Lyft, Sidecar, Uber phenomenon has nothing to do with your elaborate scheme. The online services have white drivers, and the cab companies have black ones. Seattle's "progressives" are racists who want a white driver. The rest is in 10th place.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Sep 27, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

So typical of Seattle and its do-anything-to-limit-public-transport bigotry. Seattle has by far the worst public transportation of any comparable U.S. city -- 45 years behind Portland. But any time the people try to remedy the situation, Seattle city government -- or some other mechanism wholly owned by the One Percent -- invariably slaps them down.

Posted Sat, Sep 28, 12:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Isn't it fun to see how the "progressives" didn't care about taxis until they figured out a way to insure that they can get a white driver? This is what Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar are all about. It's Seattle "progressive" racism at work, plain and simple. The fact that none of the "progressives" will even talk about it makes it even better. The depth of "progressive" hypocrisy in this city knows no end.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Sep 28, 3:22 p.m. Inappropriate

What absolute nonsense - ridesharing services are about consumer choice.

I don't suppose you have any "evidence" to back up your assertions, do you?

Posted Sat, Sep 28, 5:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Consumer choice for Seattle "progressives" to get a ride from a white driver and avoid the black ones. You people are such laughable, racist hypocrites.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Sep 28, 7:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Nonsense. The traditional capped taxi cartel charges too much, always the problem with cartels. The cartel should be broken up because it is a cartel, regardless of the ethnicity of its employees.

simorgh

Posted Sun, Sep 29, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

The more you deny it, the more I laugh. If the taxi drivers were white, the "progressives" would be calling for reform of the system. But the drivers are black, and the Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar drivers are white, so the "progressives" want to abandon the "worthless" taxicabs.

You people have decided the taxicabs are worthless because they are being driven by a class of people who you've always regarded as worthless. It's so obvious, and it's just pathetic to watch the "progressives" of Seattle do this.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Sep 30, 7:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Another excellent NotFanOfLogic tidbits. The binder is getting pretty full. Keep it up.

Treker

Posted Mon, Sep 30, 6:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the good words. I will indeed "keep it up." You "progressives" need to be told just what hypocrites you are. In the phony "debate" over taxi service, you are doing on a small scale just what the wingnuts in Washington, D.C. are doing on a large scale: Trying to destroy government rather than make it work better.

A pox on both your houses.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Sep 30, 8:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Trying to destroy government ............by ensuring that all private transportation carriers have insurance. I think this is the same method used to take down the czar's government. All this because (another gem) .....the city council hates black taxi drivers. Yea.

The NotFNOfLogic strikes again. Congratulations - you have filled up a fool's mug and quaffed again.

Treker

Posted Mon, Sep 30, 10:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Nice to see a "progressive" tiptoeing around the elephant in the room: "progressive" Seattle racism.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Oct 1, 3:06 p.m. Inappropriate

It all boils down to insurance, safety and availability.

I'm not riding in the mustache cars because I've seen too many of their drivers yakking on their phones and driving at the same time. Without using speakers.

Frankly, if I'm paying a fee to ride in your car, you need to just stay off the phone and drive.

Someone is going to be involved in a big accident in one of these underinsured internet word-of-mouth entrepreneurial vendors, whether car-for-hire, room-in-your-home-for-a-night and VOILA! The light will dawn on why certain regulations do make sense.

Posted Tue, Oct 1, 3:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Whew. Thanks for a common sense reply.

Treker

Posted Tue, Oct 1, 4:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Yeah, but the "progressives" want to ride in the gypsy cabs, because at long last you can avoid non-white drivers. Come on, anyone can see what's going on.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Oct 2, 6:41 a.m. Inappropriate

As I said commonsense - thanks for a rationale reply. So refreshing.

Treker

Posted Thu, Oct 3, 3:43 p.m. Inappropriate

If the taxi drivers were white, would Seattle's "progressives" be so quick to give up on them? I don't think so!

NotFan

Posted Wed, Dec 18, 4:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Hailo is a phone app that lets you hail a cab. It's just not in Seattle. The company is based in NYC but also offers service in other U.S. cities, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Atlanta, as well as Toronto and Montréal in Canada.

https://www.hailocab.com/nyc#

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