Frustration abounds as council debates ridesharing plan

While City Council members discuss a proposal, cabbies and rideshare companies balk. But the city's push for training and inspections does win a nod.
Cabbies brought Teamsters 117 balloons to a City Council committee meeting about rideshare regulations on Friday. The Western Washington Taxicab Association works closely with the union.

Cabbies brought Teamsters 117 balloons to a City Council committee meeting about rideshare regulations on Friday. The Western Washington Taxicab Association works closely with the union. Photo: Bill Lucia

The ridesharing debate in Seattle City Council is running at the same temperature it has from the start: hot.

At a meeting Friday, rideshare and taxi representatives raised objections to a set of draft city rules for the app-based car services, and council members raised concerns about the number of rideshare companies operating in Seattle and insurance coverage.

The meeting was the latest chapter in the Taxi, For-hire and Limousine Regulations Committee’s months-long effort to hammer out guidelines for tech upstarts like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar. The Council Chambers were packed with a standing room only crowd that included cabbies, flat rate and ride share drivers. The proposed rules outline a pilot program that would run through Dec. 31, 2015. Each rideshare service would face a 100-vehicle cap, and drivers using the apps could work a maximum of 16 hours per week — unless they have a city-issued for-hire driver’s license. 

During the meeting, Councilmember Bruce Harrell said he wants to take the regulations a step further and limit the number of rideshare companies — referred to in the draft ordinance as “transportation network companies,” or TNCs. The council is trying to move away from using the term "ridesharing."

 “Saying 100 [vehicles] per TNC seems a little artificial if we don’t limit TNCs,” he said. “I just think it’s logical to go a step further and say how many TNCs.” 

“It’s all about the number of cars out there,” he added. Later in the meeting Harrell said, “We are limiting supply, that is the policy choice we made.”

There are currently 850 taxi vehicle licenses in circulation in Seattle. As part of the current proposal, the city would issue an additional 50 licenses through a lottery. Many cabbies complain that there aren’t enough licenses available. The licenses have sold for between $70,000 and $100,000 in recent years, and some drivers lease rather than buy them, according to a local cab company manager.

Lyft, Uber and Sidecar have declined to tell the city how many drivers are using their apps in Seattle.

Insurance coverage, meanwhile, remains one of ridesharing’s murkier aspects. The draft rules include guidelines that would require rideshare companies to carry $1 million per incident liability policies that cover all of the drivers using their apps. Lyft, Uber and Sidecar say they already have the $1 million coverage. But the companies have not shown the policies to the city.

Ben Noble, the director of the City Council’s Central Staff, said the companies argue that the policies are proprietary and that they don’t want the details of their coverage to become part of the public record.

Asked whether the company would let the city take a look at their insurance policy, Uber’s Seattle general manager Brooke Steger said: “We’re a private company with competition.” 

“We’ll work with the city to ensure they’re comfortable with it,” she added, referring to the insurance coverage.

The draft proposal would also require companies to carry underinsured motorist coverage, which would kick in if a rideshare driver gets into an accident with another driver who does not have adequate insurance to cover the damages and is at fault.

Clark is especially concerned about whether rideshare drivers are covered when they are not carrying passengers and are "trolling" the streets. She said she wants to have an expert brief the committee early next year about insurance industry perspectives on ridesharing. 

Taxi drivers say the proposed rules are unfair because they’d still face high commercial insurance costs, while rideshare drivers can carry cheaper personal policies. Taxi industry representatives say that drivers pay, on average, $8,000 per year for insurance.

During the meeting, Clark recognized another taxi industry concern: A fear that drivers would abandon cabs and take up ridesharing. The fear among some in the industry is that this trend would devalue taxi licenses.

“We’re getting a lot of push back about well, ‘everybody’s going to rush to be a TNC, if I have to just go through a lighter vehicle review, insurance doesn’t cost me as much end of month, why the heck am I still going with a taxi,' " she said. It would be important for the committee members, Clark said, to consider the interplay between taxis, flat rate cars and rideshares as they develop the rules.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Dec 13, 9:21 p.m. Inappropriate

This is yet another example of a "progressive" clowncil and city administration that can't do anything right. Whether it's a matter of payoffs from a heavily cash-based system, or simple incompetence, or both, is anyone's guess.

The one positive that I'll give the clowncil, for the time being, is their refusal to adopt Uber-Lyft-Sidecar's "ride sharing" euphemism. These are taxicab companies, same as the established players, and all should be required to play by the same rules. If the new entrants won't insure their taxis and make those policies available for public inspection, they should be invited to leave Seattle permanently.

On the service quality front, we have a case of outright laziness on the part of both the clowncil and what passes for a city administration.

The existing companies pay fees that ought to be sufficient to fund a vigorous spot-checking operation to evaluate the quality of service, compliance with regulations, and response times. The fact that the city hasn't done its job is evidence that the lazy public servants here will do ANYTHING to avoid doing their goddamned jobs.

All of this is easily addressed through diligence and integrity, both of which are in exceedingly short supply among the overpaid sluggards who warm the chairs in our "progressive" local government. The fact that the solution is so self evident, so easy, and so simple is even more reason that the "progressives" will not implement it.

After all, this is a city that can't fix its streets, its schools, its traffic signals, its parks, its police, or its local electric utility. What the "progressives" here CAN do is paint bicycle lanes and issue voluminous reports, and hand out corrupt favors to well-connected developers.

Suggestion to Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar: Start paying bribes. It's how it works around here.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Jan 1, 11:49 p.m. Inappropriate

If SDOT could reduce its overhead costs, they could put mor money into street maintenance. Their overhead recovery rate is 200%! Now that's an issue!

Posted Wed, Jan 1, 11:49 p.m. Inappropriate

If SDOT could reduce its overhead costs, they could put mor money into street maintenance. Their overhead recovery rate is 200%! Now that's an issue!

Posted Sat, Dec 14, 7:45 a.m. Inappropriate

I agree NotFan. These 'carsharing' companies are taxi cabs by a different name. The only thing that has changed here is the dispatching service, which is a phone app rather than a phone call. A real sleight of hand Uber and Lyft are doing with their pleas for leniency.

Silas Lindenstein, who drives for UberX and Lyft, says it all.
“The great thing about all the apps is if you’re an unsafe driver you’ll get kicked off quick.”

Couldn't you say this about most professions really?
"If you’re an unsafe doctor you’ll get kicked off quick."
"If you’re an unsafe restaurant you’ll get kicked off quick."
"If you’re an unsafe bus driver you’ll get kicked off quick."
"If you’re an unsafe train engineer you’ll get kicked off quick."

What he's really saying is that after a driver is involved in a big accident, they'll get kicked off, which is probably true. Essentially you'd be regulating by 'accident' literally.

Like anything that's unregulated, eventually you'll get a driver who causes a horrendous accident, or will be responsible for killing a whole bunch of people because of poor car maintenance or because they were driving impaired.

New York City experimented with this kind of bullshit by allowing unregulated bus services to run greyhound type bus service.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/06/nyregion/fatal-bronx-bus-crash-caused-by-driver-fatigue-board-says.html?_r=0

Providing transportation for someone is serious business. And ultimately the only evidence of unsafe drivers is going to be documentation of a serious accident, which is too late for the involved riders, if the Uber and Lyft folks get their way.

If these guys were smart, they should have called themselves 'Charter Cabs' or 'Free Market Taxis' since the Conservative think tanks are all agog about charter schools and you'd get their support simply by proxy.

Posted Sat, Dec 14, 1:21 p.m. Inappropriate

In a city that overflows with arrogant "progressives," it's pretty hard for anyone to top the locals. But Brooke Steger managed to do it with the refusal to show Uber's insurance policy. As far as I'm concerned, Uber can get out and stay out. And they can take Lyft and Sidecar with them. We have too many techie types who think they're too special to follow the rules as it is.

The real issue is how to get the city government to do its regulatory job. There's no shortage of people who want to drive taxis. If these various complaints are real, then a spot checking operation will quickly unearth them. And if there aren't enough taxis, that can be determined as well.

I drove a taxi in college. I know how it works. Half the drivers are idiots who are pissed off if you're taking a short trip. The other half understand that as long as the wheels are rolling they are making money, regardless of the trip length. The cab driver who hustles is the one who comes home with more money. I hustled. Driving a cab helped put me through school, because I didn't sit there and wait for airport calls. I was the guy who was ever so happy to take the lady two miles to the grocery store.

In any case, city spot checking can (and should) whack drivers and companies HARD for not accepting credit cards, not accepting short rides, eating in the cab, chatting on a cellphone, and all the rest. The fact that these problems exist is the fault of a lazy city administration full of "progressives" who would rather sit in their offices working on their their next useless "sustainability initiative" than get out and do something useful for anyone, for a change.

Uber, Sidecar, and Lyft have an opportunity here. They can drop their "special" act and apply for licenses like the others. They can loudly and publicly appeal for enforcement of the regulations via spot checking. If they're really as good as they claim to be, then they will clean Yellow and Orange's clock, and win the old fashioned way.

Why won't they do it that way? Techno-greed. They want to run companies without insurance, and without following the other rules. The idea isn't really to offer taxi service, but to go public at some ridiculously inflated valuation, so their venture capital backers can waddle off into the sunset, fat and happy.

I'm fine if they get rich following the rules, but if they're just going to be another bunch of hypocritical, corrupt, skimming "progressives" of the kind that already infests Seattle business community (especially the lawyers, architects, and smug non-profits) and local government, well, then I'm not so high on them. We have way too much of that as it is. I must say I'm surprised that the clowncil is resisting them. It can't be principles. The incumbents must be shoveling money under the table.

p.s.: There's no justification for ANY distinction between the insurance requirements on Lyft, Sidecar, Uber, Yellow, Orange, Stita, or the various "black car" services. They should all be required to have precisely the same coverage.

NotFan

Posted Sun, Dec 15, 2:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Serious accidents happen. It's an unfortunate fact of life. Airlines, trains, police, it happens. Insurance payments can never fully compensate but they can help. But the taxi cartel has prevented competition for too long. UberX and Lyft would be unnecessary if free entry were allowed into the business. The taxi industry has been coddled for too long.

simorgh

Posted Sun, Dec 15, 1:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Nothing wrong with new entrants, as long as they enter on the same basis as incumbents. In this case, the new entrants want special privileges, which is what all "progressive" yuppies want. God forbid that they'd ever have to compete on a level playing field, especially against people with darker skin tones who actually might win a fair fight. Much better to stick them n-words with higher costs, ain't it?

NotFan

Posted Sat, Dec 14, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

Prove the safety, licensing and full insurance of all the drivers, and make all the taxis and ride share companies play by exactly the same rules - or agree that laws and ordinances do not need to be enforced.

Posted Sun, Dec 15, 2:03 a.m. Inappropriate

And abolish the limits on the number of vehicles! Limiting entry is unfair to entrepreneurs and unresponsive to the public This whole problem exists because demand for the service has increased while City ordinances have erected barriers to new entries. If any other service were stuck with these "rules" we would have too few restaurants, too little gas pressure, etc etc.

Break the cartel! Allow everyone who can comply with the rules equal rights to engage in business!

simorgh

Posted Sun, Dec 15, 6:58 a.m. Inappropriate

I agree with you, simorgh.

I believe the current limit on licenses exists, in part, to bolster the wages of the drivers. However, I think we should at least give a try to eliminating the cap. And, in agreement with others' comments, all should play by the same rules - licenses, insurance, ...

Driver wages won't necessarily go down. Instead, we may see the taxi model shift more towards the rideshare model. Given a good rating system by users, those who maintain their cars, keep them clean, are pleasant to their customers, etc. will get high marks. They will get the business and be able to charge the higher rates.

Another factor with the rideshare model is determining the fee in advance. This allows you to shop for the driver you want. That said, we may still need rate caps to keep the naïve riders from getting raked.

Moving to a cap-free model might not work. The current system is broken, however, and I think it is reasonably safe to all to give it a try.

pragmatic

Posted Sun, Dec 15, 12:14 p.m. Inappropriate

The term "rideshare" is a lie, and that's why Seattle "progressives" love it. In real life, people sell for payment and share for free. Lyft and Uber and Sidecar don't share rides, they sell them. When they call themselves "ridesharing," they're spinning a lie to obscure the commercial nature of what they do.

Which is why the "progressives" here love the term. An essential aspect of the Seattle "progressive" is its irresistible impulse to lie about everything as a means of trying to obscure its hypocrisy and its true motives. The "progressive" views itself as above commerce. Yes, it's a yuppie at the top of the income distribution, but that's the result of virtue, same as the puritans of Old Boston regarded themselves as the Elect both in this world and the next.

So rather than speak directly of commerce, the "progressive" talks about "sharing" and "$15 an hour" while supporting new taxi companies that erode driver wages and compromise passenger safety. "Rideshare" puts such a gentle sheen on a scheme to impoverish taxi drivers, who are incidentally not white enough for Seattle's "progressive" tastes. Quite a few circumlocutions to avoid what's they're really thinking: "Those n-words are making too much money."

Oh, and if you abolish limits on taxis (which includes the phony "rideshares"), they'll clog the streets. This will open the way for tolling of city streets, a long-time goal of Seattle "progressives" who hate cars, especially privately owned cars used by their owner for themselves. Not to mention a new source of tax revenue for the funding of more "sustainability" studies.

"Rideshare," therefore, is a Seattle "progressive" way of doing well by doing good. Think of the benefits. You simultaneously squeeze minorities out of the taxi business, reduce wages, increase traffic congestion, make it harder on private cars used for private purposes, and pave the way for street tolling and higher taxes. That would be what we call a "progressive" win-win-win-win-win-win! And if you happen to be a "progressive" with "friends and founder" shares in one of these companies, all the better! You might even wind up with enough money to bribe the city council into approving, say, a basketball arena or a rule-breaking "sustainable" office building.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Dec 16, 8:55 a.m. Inappropriate

I disagree that the birth of Uber, Lyft, etc., came about as a resulst of increased demand. I think they are creative ways to avoid paying taxes and licensing fees, and to pay less for rides. If there is such a demand, more taxi licenses could be issued. These app-based services need to follow the same safety, insurance, and licensing rules as taxis.

mspat

Posted Sun, Dec 15, 9:48 p.m. Inappropriate

What's the advantage to the public for having different models: for hire, flat rate, limo, and taxi? Other than protecting existing speculative investment in taxi licenses, what's the advantage to the companies?

What I'm aiming at - is why have multiple piles of regulations for what is effectively moving customers from point a to point b? I think there's a need to simplify and open the competition up for anyone who can meet the standard.

Catherine

Posted Sun, Dec 15, 10:34 p.m. Inappropriate

All the "models" you speak of are "for hire." Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber are in the taxi business, but don't want to be insured on the same basis as the rest. And of course they will only take customers who have smart phones and credit cards. No poor people need apply. They only stink up the car. Such a "progressive" city we got here.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Dec 18, 12:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Pre-"rideshare" Why is flagging down a ride where you are, insured differently than "calling" (email, smart phone, land line, whatever) for a ride? Why is there a distinction?

Why are we limiting competition (supporting a monopoly)? How many cabs are there per resident in NYC? Chicago? Dallas? SF? LA?

Please understand that neither the historic system, nor the current free for all, seem in the public best interest. I"m just trying to see where in-between makes the most sense to me. What the city council is talking about... doesn't jibe either.

Catherine

Posted Fri, Dec 20, 2:04 a.m. Inappropriate

There isn't a "free for all" here yet. That's what the city council says it wants to avoid, but I'm becoming skeptical. I think insurance is a biggie. It ought to be the same for everyone.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Dec 16, 4:31 a.m. Inappropriate

Doesn't anyone remember the chaos that existed in the taxi industry +/-30 years ago when we permitted free entry? Anyone with car could get a license. Service went to hell and drivers were living in poverty (sleeping in their cabs…) The hospitality industry petitioned loudly for re-regulation.

I'm not at all sure that smartphone apps are the magic cure-all that would prevent that from happening again.

Posted Mon, Dec 16, 9:59 a.m. Inappropriate

The "progressives" like being served by people in poverty. It gives them someone to rescue when it's convenient.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Dec 18, 11:19 a.m. Inappropriate

R - what I remember from 30+ years ago, is that if you called a cab you reliably got one, and on time. More recent experiences, not so much.

I'm not saying 30 years ago was great, or even better than now on wider evaluation, but we can do better than we are now.

Catherine

Posted Thu, Dec 19, 6:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle's taxi industry was deregulated in 1979, with unpleasant results. Here's an overview of what happened -- http://www.taxi-library.org/seattle-dereg-rereg-2001.pdf

Posted Wed, Dec 18, 2:41 p.m. Inappropriate

I've been thinking more about this, and have come to the tentative conclusion that whatever the city council does on the issue, it will do the wrong thing. They are a group of people who generally can't find their ass with both hands, so one thing we know is that they'll screw it up. We'll see!

NotFan

Posted Thu, Dec 19, 10:18 p.m. Inappropriate

There are those who would say that anything you say about anything will be wrong because YOU are a person who can't find YOUR ass with both hands.

Personal attacks such as this one are not enlightening. Even those who occasionally concur with what you say can make no use of any of it.

Are you affiliated with Stand Up America?

simorgh

Posted Fri, Dec 20, 2:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Those who say I can't find my ass with both hands would be wrong. And no, I am not affiliated with Stand Up America. Are you?

NotFan

Posted Fri, Dec 20, 2:20 p.m. Inappropriate

No. But the tactic of bombastic repetition of off-topic insults is very much their style. You can watch them at public hearings or read their web site which is all indignation and hostility. So that's why I ask.

simorgh

Posted Mon, Dec 23, 12:27 a.m. Inappropriate

You seem kinda hostile lately. Did your health insurance get cancelled or something?

NotFan

Posted Wed, Jan 1, 11:45 p.m. Inappropriate

It seems to me that both taxis and "ride share" companies are offering the same service--a ride for a price. So why shouldn't both be subject to the same requirements?

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