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    UberX, Sidecar, Lyft driver caps become focus of rideshare debate

    At least five councilmembers favor limiting the number of app-based drivers who can use their personal cars. Three others and the Mayor aren't convinced.
    Rideshare companies catch a break with Mayor Murray's new plan.

    Rideshare companies catch a break with Mayor Murray's new plan. Credit: Raido Kaldma

    Driver caps have emerged as one of the final sticky issues in the Seattle City Council’s effort to craft ridesharing regulations. With a committee vote looming, councilmembers disagree about how many Lyft, Uber and Sidecar drivers should be allowed to use their own vehicles to pick up passengers.

    The full council is considering a draft ordinance that would limit the number of rideshare drivers using personal vehicles to 300. Five council members support some type of cap. Three members and Mayor Ed Murray do not. The ordinance also allows for-hire drivers with commercially licensed vehicles, like taxis, to use the apps. This means that roughly 900 cabbies and flat rate drivers could potentially work with companies like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar. How many would actually do so remains unclear.

    “Ultimately we might have to see a compromise,” said councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who opposes the proposed limits, saying they would stifle innovation and reduce the city’s transportation options.

    The ordinance would create a rideshare pilot program that ends on June 30, 2016. The legislation refers to ridesharing services as Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs.

    The ridesharing debate has been stewing in the council for nearly a year now. Cabbies and flat rate for-hire drivers say TNC drivers compete for their customers while enjoying lower insurance rates and fewer regulations. The TNCs argue that driver or vehicle caps will hinder their business model and could cause them to shut down in Seattle.

    All nine councilmembers attended Friday’s Committee on Taxi, For-hire and Limousine Regulations meeting. They chose not to vote on an amendment introduced by committee chair Sally Clark that would have doubled the TNC driver cap to 600. Clark, along with committee members Bruce Harrell and Mike O’Brien, would like to see limits on the number of TNC drivers using personal cars. Nick Licata, according to a staffer, backs a cap. Jean Godden voiced support during the meeting for one between 300 and 600.

    O'Brien likened the limit on ridesharing drivers to past legislation that required food trucks to park minimum distances away from existing restaurants. And because many taxi and for-hire drivers are from minority and immigrant communities he doesn’t see how the council could allow the rideshare companies to operate as they do now, “without violating and undermining all the work we do on race and social justice.”

    “I support creating space for innovation,” said O'Brien at the meeting, before noting that he backs the 300-driver cap for personal vehicles. “I’m very flexible on looking at, within the pilot, adjusting that number.”

    Like Bagshaw, Tom Rasmussen and Tim Burgess don't favor driver caps. Although in a Friday afternoon blog post Burgess seemed flexible and said if a council-majority favors limiting the number of drivers, he could back Clark’s amendment that raises the cap to 600.

    Rasmussen doesn't “see any compelling reason,” for caps, arguing that the apps provide a way for people like students and retirees to make extra money. “The problem that we have is that we’re just picking numbers out of the air.”

    The numbers issue is longstanding. Committee members have complained that the TNCs will not say how many drivers use their apps in Seattle, which makes it difficult to gauge demand. “I don’t know how to have [the cap] be anything but arbitrary when we have zero information,” O’Brien said. (Kshama Sawant did not weigh in specifically on the cap issue during the meeting and did not return a call asking for comment.)

    While Mayor Murray is not a cap fan, his main concerns, said a spokesperson via email, are about safety and insurance. Asked if the mayor would veto legislation that includes caps, the spokesperson said: “The Mayor has not considered a veto at this point.” Six council votes in favor would make the legislation veto-proof.

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    Posted Sat, Feb 15, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

    Zimmer:“How could we be doing millions and millions of rides without insurance? It just doesn’t make sense. It’s like a birther argument.”

    A birther argument? According to a Lyft company rep, the new policy still wouldn't cover the San Francisco situation:

    "But that type of accident wouldn’t be covered under the new insurance policies, a Lyft spokesperson confirmed to me. That’s because the driver involved in the accident was not on duty at the time of the accident. The excess liability policy would cover only drivers when they’re in the middle of a Lyft ride."


    Posted Sat, Feb 15, 11:35 a.m. Inappropriate

    What is the liability cap for a licensed taxi that is "off duty"? just curious.


    Posted Sat, Feb 15, 2:32 p.m. Inappropriate

    Kieth, taxis are always insured. The insurance does turn off depending on what the driver is doing.

    Posted Sat, Feb 15, 2:51 p.m. Inappropriate

    My question was, "what is the cap", I know they have insurance but it's
    not easy to imagine why a cab driver, returning his car to base, would have
    to have big time liability insurance compared to ordinary licensed drivers.


    Posted Sun, Feb 16, 8:53 a.m. Inappropriate

    kieth: "... it's not easy to imagine..."

    Actually it is very easy. Taxis are on the road a lot more than private cars in congested urban areas and have a higher accident rate.

    Posted Sun, Feb 16, 3:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    OK, then why not base the insurance on miles driven? my insurance company obliges me to reveal the miles I drive each year and I imagine if I drove 100K miles per year my insurance would be considerably higher than it is. Perfectly understandable. But the Uber driver in SF was not driving a passenger when he apparently hit a non-jaywalking pedestrian; what I am getting at is why is his insurance risk greater than an "off duty" cab? in fact it's not apparent to me that carrying a paying passenger should raise insurance beyond what other high mileage cars should pay. Unless, of course, ambulance chasing attorneys and compliant insurance companies are just creating some deep pockets and thereby setting up a nice cycle for both.


    Posted Mon, Feb 17, 1:51 p.m. Inappropriate

    Your objections are irrelevant. Insurance companies look at usage classes, such as taxi cabs, and what their losses are. The premiums have to cover their projected losses + cushion + profit. This San Francisco accident could easily be a $1 mil+ judgement. Insurance companies are not going to take a risk on TNC vehicles unless they get the appropriate premium.

    Posted Sat, Feb 15, 10:23 p.m. Inappropriate

    And because many taxi and for-hire drivers are from minority and immigrant communities he doesn’t see how the council could allow the rideshare companies to operate as they do now, “without violating and undermining all the work we do on race and social justice.”

    I'd like to see the numbers that support this allegation. Nothing like taking a shotgun approach to an issue and missing the target.

    The problem is that taxi companies are going to be obsolete very soon and ride sharing is the new and organic way to inner city transportation.


    Posted Sun, Feb 16, 6:16 p.m. Inappropriate

    It seems to me that taxis offer a ride that is fully insured, a ride that is regulated by the city so that passengers don't have to worry about 2 cabbies essentially dukeing it out in the streets to grab a fare, and you can always schedule a cab if you're out in the suburbs.

    The ride-sharing rides seem to only be available in the close-in hot areas of the city, especially on bar-hopping nights. How is this the kind of safe, full service that taxis and for-hire limos offer?

    It just seems to me that the rideshare programs skim the easy cream off the top and the city has been ignoring that fact. It also seems that taxis and for-hire limos have a pretty strong case against the city for not defending their city-issued licenses better.

    Posted Mon, Feb 17, 10:27 a.m. Inappropriate

    How about requiring the rideshare drivers/companies to have the same insurance as cabs and for-hire vehicles, and requiring them to follow all the same regulations? In addition, why not have all vehicles in the business of transporting people available both by dispatch and by apps? Levels the playing field, assures public safety. If those who make extra money now as drivers for Lyft, Uber, etc., are unable to pay the freight and follow the regs, then so be it. Public safety is more important. As for caps, there must be some way the computer jockeys can model this to come up with an optimum number of vehicles to be available at a given time and place; just use that to supplement the taxi licenses, and make every vehicle carrying paying passengers have a license to do so.


    Posted Mon, Feb 17, 10:43 a.m. Inappropriate

    I'm still New To Seattle. But one thing I don't understand here is why the City Council doesn't know how many drivers each ride-sharing organization has. The companies apparently have refused to provide the information. So why hasn't the council simply subpoenaed the data then followed up with a lawsuit to compel production? Article 4, Section 4, subsection 6 of the City Charter (http://bit.ly/1jx5lqY) clearly gives the Council the power, to wit: "The City Council shall ... have authority to compel attendance of witnesses as well as production of papers and things pertinent to business before it or any of its committees." Is someone is waiting for a campaign contribution?

    Posted Mon, Feb 17, 1:25 p.m. Inappropriate

    Welcome to Seattle William_P_Barrett. Hang onto your hat, you're about to discover the reality about the dysfunctional, highly paid Seattle City Council.

    (And of course the dysfunctional voters who do not pay proper attention)

    Posted Tue, Feb 18, 7:25 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 Wed, Feb 19, 8:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    I'm happy to have some safety related regulation of these services, but not regulation designed to limit consumer choice and supply (i.e., quantities). We rely on these services to transport us safely and conveniently when transit and walking aren't options. Taxis don't give us the reliability or safety we need to allow us to forego having another car, especially for our teenager. Congestion and climate change issues should trump the other concerns which can be dealt with in other ways.


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