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Memo to City Council: Don't let taxis dictate ridesharing rules

Guest Opinion: Ridesharing companies cut costs and increase our transportation options. So why are we thinking about forcing them out of the market?
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

I was extremely disappointed to hear that the Seattle City Council is leaning toward protecting an incredibly outdated industry – taxis – that is facing real competition from well-loved technology-backed startups.

Seattle is better than this.

I have lived in Seattle for 35 years. I decided to start my company here because Seattle is smart, innovative and progressive. At its best, Seattle is a city that supports innovative startups. As a result, it has now become a product of them — companies like Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft. Over the years I have admired local leaders who embrace disruptive companies that create jobs and opportunity and make Seattle a better place to live.

The Seattle I grew up in was pragmatic. The city council I grew up with was on the side of the consumer. They were not on the side of the people putting money in their pockets, nor were they on the side of keeping the status quo.

Seattle needs companies like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and other new competitors.

Consumers nationwide have embraced ridesharing and the benefits of competition. Just like Amazon.com forced retailers to improve, transportation competition promotes faster pickup times and newer, cleaner cars. Of course, competition from more drivers and more transportation services also promotes lower prices.

Better yet, reliable transportation options like Uber and Lyft actually result in fewer cars on the road and fewer miles driven because consumers pay for every mile. I know many new Seattleites who use a combination of buses, bikes and the occasional Uber or Lyft so that they can ditch their car — or their family’s second car — entirely. Myself included.

Uber and Lyft provide better service and there’s no cash involved. Riders are billed automatically. They show up on time and drivers are held accountable. Drivers can be requested on your phone, so they’re faster and easier.

So why was the City Council thinking about requiring them to ditch the app and force users to request rideshares by calling? Here’s why: The taxi companies told them that would help keep competition at bay. Why limit the number of vehicles to 100 and limit the drivers to 16 hours a week, as the Council was planning last week? Here’s why: The taxi companies told them to.

This is Seattle politics at it’s worst: Knee-jerk regulation written by big business in the name of the little guy. It’s two faced.

Seattle’s taxi companies made $75 million last year. They want to keep prices up and improve at their own pace — when they feel like it. They don’t want competition.

This is a story that’s playing out across America: In Washington, D.C., the City Council also considered a bogus taxi-company informed proposal. And, as in Seattle, officials seemed to pay a lot of attention to political contributions from taxi companies. But, in the end, enough voters spoke loudly enough that the city listened.

I hope our City Council listens to us and knocks down this bogus, competition-squashing legislation.

Galen Ward is cofounder and CEO of Seattle-based Estately, an award-winning real estate search website and app established with the goal of transforming how consumers find and buy homes. Galen bootstrapped the company in 2007 with Doug Cole after experiencing frustration with available real estate search options and deciding to create something better. A self-taught web developer and programmer. Galen is a graduate of Carleton College and serves as a mentor for Angel Fund 500 Startups. He enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, running and cross country skiing


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Feb 19, 6:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Perhaps the City Council wants to avoid repeating the chaos that resulted the last time it deregulated the taxi industry, back about 1981. Council is awkwardly stumbling towards a solution, not merely being protectionist towards an antiquated business model.

One of the things that the public needs is to be able to buy a ride with cash. Not everyone has a credit card, which the new-tech taxi companies require. Taxi companies new and old rely on the public streets to do their business, and they need to be regulated so that all intending riders can be served.

And can we please STOP calling them ridesharing companies. They sell rides for money in order to earn profit. There just ain't any sharing going on. Stop abusing the English language.

Posted Wed, Feb 19, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

I have been a professional driver with insurance and a cdl for more that 34 years and I have watched these ride-share drivers drive. I would never ride in one of those... there are many issues involved in this but safety is paramount and none of the ride share companies are offering adequate driver training and none of the drivers (so far as I know, I allow that I may be mistaken) have commercial driver licenses.
They are also elitist- without a cellphone or more one cannot use these services, without a CC you can't either.
And since when are taxis outdated?
Jay

Frybyte

Posted Wed, Feb 19, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

If Taxi's are less expensive than Uber etc then there will be a niche for them. If they step up in the world of smartphone technology, there is no reason they can't compete and grab their share of the market.

For those who speak of smart phones as elitist, the taxi companies could give or sell inexpensive dedicated phones or other devices to customers who would then use them to call a taxi. Think Kindle, its used to get Amazon book buyers so Amazon sells Kindles cheaply to get repeat book sales.

Let the market figure this out.

ruffner

Posted Wed, Feb 19, 10:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Classic taxis have several advantages over the new models: First and most importantly, they are regulated to ensure passenger safety. Without the safety requirements, it's only a matter of time until someone is catastrophically injured in one of the new model vehicles, finds out the driver is un- or under-insured, and is judgment proof, leaving the injured passenger with no way to seek compensation for his/her injuries, and in a bad enough case throwing that person onto taxpayer rolls through welfare, SSDI, or whatever the scenario permits. Second, without even the minimal regulation of taxi drivers, it's only a matter of time until a Ted Bundy type goes shopping for victims among his/her passengers. While I think classic taxis could be much better, the answer isn't to do away with them thereby losing the protections they provide, it's to level the playing field by having all transportation providers obey the same licensing, insuring, and regulatory schemes. These have evolved as the best way to protect the public. While imperfect, the new tech type companies can't compare on safety protection.

mspat

Posted Thu, Feb 20, 2:29 a.m. Inappropriate

What the council really should do is to both approve the new services and expand access to taxi licenses so that anyone who meets safety requirements can operate a cab. The limit on taxi licenses to about 980 creates artificial scarcity making service terrible. (A freind from out of town recently waited an hour for a traditional cab at a popular Capitol Hll restaurant at 8 pm!) Meanwhile, being a cab driver is one job where you can work a whole shift and make nothing. It's unfair to drivers. Finally, cab drivers in Seattle are too often terrible drivers, as anyone who drives much will recognize.

Let the consumers decide what's convenient. Require the ride services to have full insurance coverage for their service, from when the drivers sign onto their system until drivers sign off, including when drivers are between fares. Cab companies and ride services should have the same insurance requirements. Other regulations like vehicle cleanliness and driver safety standards make sense. Then let anyone who can meet the requirements offer services.

Years ago the city tried some deregulation and it was a flop, because competitive services weren't available. Now, thanks to Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, there's great competition. There's just no reason for the city council to tell us how many ride service options we should have or how many vehicles can be in this business. It just creates artificial scarcity and high prices. Other cities like San Francisco and New York have moved forward and allow these great new services to flourish. Seattle should too.

Ken Shear

Posted Sun, Feb 23, 8:15 p.m. Inappropriate

"Ridesharing companies cut costs and increase our transportation options"

Yup, they cut costs by dumping uninsured cars on the road.

http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2014/01/20/ride-sharing-insurance-lyft-uberx-sidecar/

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