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Who is at the wheel on Seattle ridesharing policies?

After a rancorous process that pitted cabbies against app-based ridesharing services a council committee reveals a plan that would allow the tech companies to continue operating in Seattle.
Can't we share? Cabbies circled Seattle City Hall earlier this year to protest ridesharing.

Can't we share? Cabbies circled Seattle City Hall earlier this year to protest ridesharing. Photo: Western Washington Taxi Cab Operators Association

App-based ridesharing companies like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar would be limited to 100 vehicles each and pay the city a licensing fee, under the draft rules of a pilot program that a Seattle City Council committee will discuss on Friday morning. Drivers using the apps to pick up riders would be required to obtain a special city-issued permit.

The council has faced intense, conflicting pressures over whether and how to regulate the app-based alternatives to taxis and town cars. The debate over the services has centered on issues such as jobs, insurance coverage, vehicle safety, convenience and affordability. Both rideshare companies and taxi industry representatives made critical remarks about the proposal on Thursday. City Council President Sally Clark, who chairs the Taxi, For-hire and Limousine Regulations Committee said the draft rules are far from final and would provide a starting point for further discussion.

"I don’t think we were under any illusion that we were going to make people happy," she said. "This is by no means a perfect solution, it’s out there for discussion and out there for feedback."

The committee has held a series of meetings during the past year to discuss options for integrating rideshare vehicles into the city’s transportation network. Traditional taxi and for-hire companies and drivers have expressed strong opposition to ridesharing, arguing that they, unlike the app-based services, are saddled with stringent city rules and high licensing and insurance costs. Rideshare companies on the other hand, say new regulations would stifle technological innovation and could kill their fledgling business model.

In addition to the vehicle cap and licensing requirements, the draft ordinance outlines liability insurance and vehicle inspection standards for ridesharing services, and restricts the amount of time a driver can work to 16 hours per week — unless they have a standard city-issued for-hire driver’s license. Also included in the rules is a $1,000 civil penalty for rideshare drivers who pick up riders who hail them in the street.

Uber, in an emailed statement, pooh-poohed the proposal. 

“The Committee has already heard from over 12,000 users of the Uber app who would be outraged to see their transportation options diminished," Brooke Steger, general manager for Uber Seattle, said in the statement. "Arbitrarily limiting the number of drivers that can use the Uber app to 100, and the number of hours they can drive to 16 a week, hurts all Seattleites."

Sidecar also knocked the draft rules. "The Committee’s proposed legislation is anti-competition, anti-innovation and anti-consumer choice," a spokesman said in an email.

Taxi industry representatives voiced skepticism as well, but some saw the proposal as a starting point for further debate. 

"It doesn’t level the playing field, it doesn’t enforce the law, but it is a step in the right direction," Western Washington Taxicab Operators Association business representative Dawn Gearhart said. Taxicab drivers working in the Puget Sound region formed WWTCOA in 2012. The association works closely with Teamsters Local 117. Gearhart said cabbies would still be paying more for insurance than rideshare drivers under the proposed rules. She also criticized language in the draft ordinance that would allow rideshare companies to hire third party vehicle inspectors, saying it was akin to restaurants hiring their own health inspectors.

Chris Van Dyk, a taxi industry lobbyist and manager of Seattle's Green Cab had some more pointed remarks. "I'm really glad they legalized marijuana, because someone was smoking it at City Hall," he said. "My jaw drops with every paragraph [of the draft ordinance]."

Van Dyk thinks that the rules would devalue existing taxi licenses and incite cabbies to decamp to rideshare companies. "If this proposal goes through, my prediction is that taxicab licenses will be abandoned, not sold."

The 850 licenses currently in circulation in Seattle have sold at prices between $70,000 and $100,000 in recent years, Van Dyk said. Under the proposal the city would also issue 50 new taxi licenses through a lottery. Taxi-drivers who made public comments in recent committee meetings have complained that there are not enough licenses available.

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Posted Fri, Dec 13, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

The term "Rideshare" should stop being used to describe the services provided by Sidecar and Lyft. The service they provide is clearly more similar to a taxi service and has no relation to traditional ridesharing like carpools or vanpools.

The California Public Utilities Commission has designated them as Transportation Network Companies, which is a much better way to describe them.

Posted Fri, Dec 13, 5:28 p.m. Inappropriate

They use "ridesharing" because it makes them sound benevolent and "progressive." Given that this is Seattle, where "progressives" are sitting ducks for appearances, it helps them here.


Posted Fri, Dec 13, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

I have to wonder why traditional taxi companies didn't discover mobile computer devices; they could've been providing this service on their own. Instead, they stayed stuck in their 1960's operating mode, perhaps thinking they were protected by the government? Entrepreneurship is not reserved to twenty-something computer programmers.

Posted Wed, Dec 18, 4:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually, traditional taxi companies have been doing exactly that. They're not stuck in the 60's at all.


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.

Posted Fri, Dec 13, 9:08 a.m. Inappropriate

When you pay a fee to get a ride, it is a livery service no matter what special names you overlay upon it.

The 'technology' is just a new and improved wrapper. Take care not to be blinded by the light.

Posted Fri, Dec 13, 1:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar are no more "ride sharing" companies than Yellow and Orange. They are taxi operators that don't want to play by the same rules. Why? Because you can order one on a smartphone, and because your driver will probably be white, which makes the average Seattle "progressive" pretty happy.


Posted Fri, Dec 13, 3:19 p.m. Inappropriate

If the driver is competent and the vehicle is safe, why would the government limit the number of competitors? In what other industry does the government limit the number of competitors? This is a special-interest cartel, which the City Council wants to update. Instead it should be abolished. NotFan notwithstanding, there is nothing "progressive" about cartels.


Posted Fri, Dec 13, 3:45 p.m. Inappropriate

This is one of an exceedingly small number of times when I will defend anything the city clowncil does. Well, if they actually do it, that is. I have nothing against new cab operators starting up, as long as they follow the same rules as the existing operators.

Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar want to be exempt. On the surface, there's no reason for them to be exempt, so you have to analyze it tribally. They allow rez bookings by smart phone, and the drivers are much more likely to be white. Seattle's "progressive" yuppies are generally quite racist, and have smart phones.

Then there's the franchise issue. If you allow unlimited entry, especially by gypsy cabs but even by licensed drivers, you'll drive down wages. Seattle's "progressive" yuppies like that, because they really don't care about working people, the $15/hour crap notwithstanding. (The yuppies are okay with that because they don't like fast food anyway, and if those workers lose their jobs, well, who cares?)

The ultimate issue with unlimited entry is that you'll have less service available at off times if the streets are flooded at peak times, which is what will happen without entry barriers. Do Seattle yuppie "progressives" care about that? Probably not, but who can say?


Posted Sat, Dec 14, 3:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Most Über Drives are white? actually the only one I see in my neighborhood is not white but so what? most exterminators are white too. OK, I made that up but does that mean they should be investigated? the thought mode where all businesses need to be regulated should be given a periodic test. Try Uber, Lyft and Sidecar for awhile, see if customers are happy or disappointed. I don't think the cab companies are overpaid but having a system where more than one rider can take advantage of a car's route and direction could have some real benefits, both economic and environmental.


Posted Sat, Dec 14, 5:17 p.m. Inappropriate

You're assuming yap yap is able to make rational arguments rather than just make things up. Rarely. If you point out later that he has accused Seattle "progressives" (whatever that means) of being racist, he will snarl and yap and deny it.


Posted Sat, Dec 14, 8:15 p.m. Inappropriate

I see that our resident "progressive" pomeranian is back. Yes, of COURSE the Seattle "progressives" are racist. It's a major reason why they want to replace the incumbent cab drivers with others of a paler complexion. Not that they'll ever admit it. Seattle "progressives" never admit anything.


Posted Sat, Dec 14, 10:42 p.m. Inappropriate

yap yap


Posted Mon, Dec 16, 4:49 p.m. Inappropriate

"NotFan" should look in the mirror before throwing out charges of racism. You are the one making blanket assumptions to a group of people based on color. The issue here is that you are terribly ignorant of the issues. Have you used Uber? Try it ten times and come back and tell me how many white drivers you see. The reason people use these services is not skin-tone, but the fact the service is better, the cars are cleaner, you can easily use credit cards, and the drivers don't talk on their bluetooth phones the whole time.

And to totally blow away your argument further - when you take your ten Uber rides ask those drivers if they drove taxis before. Must will say yes, and every single one I've talked to says they make MORE money than they did before.

You aren't protecting minorities here I'm afraid. Who are you protecting? Labor unions? At least be honest in your arguement.


Posted Mon, Dec 16, 10:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Nice try, "progressive." You're craftier than your kind used to be.


Posted Fri, Dec 13, 10:55 p.m. Inappropriate

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