Uber, Lyft: Time to take a seat at the bargaining table

Guest Opinion: Now's the time for Seattle ridesharing companies to work with the City Council and strike a deal.

Dear Uber, Lyft & Sidecar,

The Seattle City Council made the right choice last week by delaying the vote on capping the number of “Transportation Network Company” drivers who will be allowed to operate in Seattle once their new legislation goes into effect. Now the onus is on you to come to the table and negotiate with the council in good faith; to help them come up with a new policy that works for everyone.

I don’t have a dog in the fight about ridesharing/Transportation Network Companies in Seattle. I’ve never used Lyft or Sidecar, and a quick Gmail search tells me that I’ve used Uber about once a month over the course of the last year, which is probably about as often as I’ve taken taxis in Seattle.

I emailed a similar message to this one to the City Council last Thursday night asking them to delay the vote. (Though it turns out that Council President Sally Clark had already announced on Facebook she would be doing just that.)

The reason for both messages is the same: I very much have a dog in the fight to make Seattle the best, most livable place it can be, and an important part of that for me involves making it as easy as possible for people from all walks of life to get around the city quickly, reliably and affordably.

I think both of your companies represent very positive trends in local mobility, so I want to see you thrive in Seattle rather than forced to leave the Seattle market for business reasons.

I also know, however, that there are very good people at City Council; people I know and trust, who really want to engage with you around the issue of driver caps.They are people who really want to find a solution that works for everyone, but who haven’t been able to do so up until this point.

I’m not going to pretend that I know what the answer is, but I do know that there’s no good reason we can't reach a compromise that preserves the public benefit your companies offer the residents of Seattle while sticking to our city’s social justice values.

The City Council has shown that they’re willing to come to the table in good faith. Now it’s your turn. Please, on behalf of all of the Seattleites who love the services you provide and want to continue to give you our money in exchange, take advantage of this opportunity over the course of the next two weeks. Engage meaningfully with the Seattle city council to find a solution that works for both of you, and all of us, before it’s too late.

Your customer,

Sol Villarreal has spent his career in political organizing, sales and generally getting paid to talk to people. After spending the last four years doing outreach and engagement work for former Mayor Mike McGinn, he's been taking advantage of some forced downtime recently to contemplate his next venture. Follow him on Twitter @solv17.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Feb 18, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm glad the council isn't jumping to any rash decisions.

One of the big contentions is whether to have a cap. I don't know what the right answer is, but a virtue of the ride share companies is that a driver doesn't have to work full time. He can decide to offer rides when he has extra time or the price (presumably higher during peak demand periods) is tempting enough.

If there are caps, then would a driver be able to just drive part time? I think the competition for licenses would make that difficult.

pragmatic

Posted Thu, Feb 20, 10:18 a.m. Inappropriate

The part time owner driver model was only economically feasible because the TNCs are cutting corners on insurance and licensing.

Posted Tue, Feb 18, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

The big issue is not caps but mandating that the TNC vehicles carry commercial insurance. This and other fixed expenses required of a legal and insured for hire business makes the whole model of part time owner drivers economically unfeasible.

Posted Tue, Feb 18, 2:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Insurance may be a big issue, but it's the easy one. I see very little opposition. How do you solve the cap issue?

pragmatic

Posted Tue, Feb 18, 5:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Require the insurance, and require the TNC vehicles to hold work through a current taxi licensee, then wait a year to see the effects.
Could be that the cap issue isn't needing to be revisited, but if it does, one year isn't too long to wait.

The TNC folks can't use online trolling for fares to jump over city regulations required of taxis. Otherwise, no one in Seattle will bother to adhere to any of Seattle's other laws.

Posted Wed, Feb 19, 7:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Resolve the cap issue by eliminating the caps, all of them. Allow qualified people with qualifying vehicles to engage in the business, as is true in every other enterprise. The caps are a political sop to a cartel and should be abolished.

simorgh

Posted Wed, Feb 19, 7:53 p.m. Inappropriate

That's not true, simorgh. If you decided to start your own bus line in downtown, you'd be rejected. Same thing, you decide to start your own ferry line and compete with WSF ... not gonna happen. Want to start a new airport shuttle service? Not so easy as you think.

Taxis are regulated as are all transportation methods except private vehicles. Anyone who wants to play the taxi, or for-hire game needs to play by the same bureaucratic rules and regs. And be required to have good insurance.

Posted Thu, Feb 20, 10:14 a.m. Inappropriate

If it was easy, why are there no places in the US where UberX, Lyft and Sidecar are carrying commercial insurance? When the City Council passes this bill, this will be the first time it has been done.

Posted Tue, Feb 18, 6:26 p.m. Inappropriate

The big issue here is that TNCs are creating Operant Conditioning chambers out of driver's vehicles (it's weasely to call them "TNC vehicles" btw)

We're facing a situation where drivers have a specific financial incentive to distract themselves from the driving task by stabbing at a tiny button in response to a klaxon and minuscule text. Seattle City council should regulate the way these apps behave first and foremost: require that they have interactive voice response so that drivers won't be distracted from the road or the pedestrians and cars upon it.

sparklee

Posted Wed, Feb 19, 7:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Good point.

Posted Wed, Feb 19, 6:54 p.m. Inappropriate

I would love to have better customer service with Seattle taxi drivers. I'm not sure if deregulation or competition from ride-sharing companies is the answer, but something needs to change. I've taken rides via taxi mostly to/from the Sea-Tac airport, for meetings on different ends of downtown and occasionally for a ride home from a restaurant or bar. In 15 years, I can't recall one good experience that resembled the service I receive at a coffee shop, grocery store or restaurant.

Wait times can be over 30 minutes, the drivers pretend they don't accept credit cards or the credit card machines are broken (to try to force you to pay in cash), the drivers rarely offer to lift my bags into the trunk or often times don't even open the door for me (I'm a woman). Since cell phones became popular (10 years now), I've never had a driver that wasn't chatting on his cell phone the entire ride, which makes the ride unsafe for me and completely annoying to have to listen to them chat. One time, after being awake for over 24 hours on a long plane ride, I politely asked the driver if we could have a quiet ride to my apartment and he ignored me and pretended he didn't understand English. Lastly, about half the time I have to give them driving directions to get around Downtown, Capitol Hill and the Central District. Why the drivers are allowed to chat on their smart phones the whole ride, but can't or don't choose to use a GPS mapping app, is completely beyond me. If you walk into Starbucks and order a latte, you don't have to instruct the barista on how to make it, so why do you have to help a taxi driver do their job?

Typically Seattleite, I still always tip 15% because I think everyone deserves a living wage, but I avoid using taxis unless I really have to. I'm glad we now have light rail to the airport. Next time I go to the airport, I'm either going to drive and park or try Uber.

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