Both sides agree: Seattle rideshare rules 'a mess'

After months of jam-packed meetings, a new City Council plan for regulating rideshare companies brings universal disapproval.

In a move that disappointed backers of both ridesharing services and the traditional taxi industry, a City Council committee voted Thursday to cap the number of cars that apps like Lyft, UberX and Sidecar can deploy in Seattle. If the full council and the Mayor pass the legislation, only 150 drivers from each ridesharing app would be allowed to pick up passengers at any one time.

Uber and Lyft have argued that driver caps will “effectively” shut them down in Seattle by impeding their ability to meet demand. Those involved in the taxi and flat rate for-hire car businesses have supported rideshare driver caps, saying that the tech upstarts are stealing business without playing by the same regulatory rules. But they’re dissatisfied with the driver cap passed on Thursday because it doesn’t limit the number of apps, called Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs, in the legislation.

“You can have UberX, UberY, UberZ,” said Yohannes Sium. "It's a race to the bottom." 

A lawyer who works with the Seattle King County Taxicab Owner’s Alliance, and whose father immigrated from Eritrea and has driven a taxi for over 30 years, Sium believes the council’s ordinance will not stop new TNCs from flooding the market with vehicles.

“Today was a mess,” he said.

Uber’s general manager in Seattle, Brooke Steger, agreed with his assessment.

“This will put hundreds of drivers out of business,” she said, adding that the limit on drivers could also make it tough for passengers using UberX outside of downtown and at peak times.

“In Capitol Hill on a Friday," she said, "there won’t be any availability with these caps.”

Uber does not share specifics about the number of drivers using their app. But Steger said on a busy Friday night there are between 300 and 800 UberX drivers active in Seattle.

The committee’s approval of the cap was a significant step toward putting the heated, months-long debate about ridesharing regulations to bed. A full council vote on the legislation could take place on March 10.

The amendment capping the number of “live” drivers on each app at 150 passed 5-4, with votes from committee chair Sally Clark, Tom Rasmussen, Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess and Jean Godden. Bruce Harrell, Mike O’Brien, Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata voted against it, favoring another proposal that would’ve limited the total number of TNC drivers using personal vehicles in the city to 400.

In the draft ordinance the council has been considering, a cap on the total number of drivers was set at 300. O’Brien proposed increasing it by 100 on Thursday.

By not imposing an overall cap, Harrell was concerned that the TNC driver market could become bloated, giving companies too much leverage. “There’s not an equal bargaining, playing field between the driver and these companies that are capitalized by the likes of Google,” Harrell said. “They don’t have the same negotiating power.”

Sawant expressed a similar view. “I do not believe for one moment, that the TNC companies have any interest other than their own profits,” she said.

While the meeting wasn’t exactly a nail-biter, there was some legislative jockeying. Bagshaw, Rasmussen and Burgess went into the meeting opposed to TNC driver caps. The three voted for an amendment that would’ve removed any limits on the number of TNC drivers from the legislation. When it failed, they backed the 150-per-app limit.

Clark had introduced an amendment in the last committee meeting that would’ve increased the limit on the total number of TNC drivers from 300 to 600. This measure was similar to the one backed by Harrell, O’Brien and Sawant.  But on Thursday she rolled out a new amendment: the one that eventually passed. Initially she proposed setting the limit at 200 drivers per app. Godden suggested lowering the limit to 100 drivers per app. Burgess pushed successfully to have it bumped up to 150 just before the vote.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Feb 28, 6:43 a.m. Inappropriate

I am disappointed with having a cap. Part of the benefit of the TNC system is to allow people to sign up to drive part time. That means, if there's high demand they can opt to give a ride. The rest of the time they can sign out and do another job or tend to family, etc.

With caps, that type of operation will be less likely. Sure, those who do "make the cut" don't have to work full time. But, if they choose not to work, how will supply meet demand?

I understand the need for safety and insurance. On those issues, I believe everyone driving for hire must meet equivalent requirements. I'm only speaking of the caps.

pragmatic

Posted Fri, Feb 28, 7:32 a.m. Inappropriate

300 to 800 uberX drivers active on Capitol Hill alone on a busy Friday night? And competing with taxis, private for hire cars, and lyft, sidecar, and who else? How many damn cars is that at one time? Isn't the ideal of being car free to reduce carbon use? How does substituting someone else's car for one's own car serve that ideal? Sounds like a recipe for gridlock even with these insufficient caps. Aren't the car free supporters supposed to be walking, biking, and using transit? We're spending a lot of money on making that attractive for them. There should be one set of rules and regulations for anyone carrying paying passengers, period. That set of rules and regulations should include first and foremost insistence on safety by requiring the same training and insurance coverage for every car carrying paying passengers. And while they're at it, the council could also require the drivers to be competent in English and to have participated in some kind of etiquette training. I've had plenty of good taxi drivers, but have also been shocked that they call me from right outside my house and don't even bother to open the door for me. Not as courteous as the olden days.

mspat

Posted Fri, Feb 28, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

I think the supposed demand for 300-800 drivers on a Friday night is a good sign. That means that most of those customers don't have cars and are walking or bussing, etc., the rest of the time.

However, if you want to go from ballard to Roxbury lanes, for example, on a Friday eve, are you going to take the bus? Maybe there's still some reasonable connections around 8pm. But by midnight, forget it. You'll want a car - your own or someone else's.

pragmatic

Posted Mon, Mar 3, 8:08 p.m. Inappropriate

... I've never felt the need to go from Ballard to Roxbury Lanes, but I can see your point. Adequate transportation that is not a bus is critical to any city.

Posted Fri, Feb 28, 10 a.m. Inappropriate

How can the TNCs be trusted to cap their active drivers at 150? How can the city even monitor that? These are companies that have been operating for a yaer now without licenses or vailid insurance.

Posted Mon, Mar 3, 8:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Violations mean hefty fees, and after a certain number of violations, the business license is revoked.

Doing business without a business license in Seattle should be enforceable, and enforced. Otherwise, why even have business licenses?

Posted Fri, Feb 28, 10:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle needs to address these things in a more comprehensive manner.

For example, the Seattle City Council is capping the number of transportation options available while the Seattle Department of Planning & Development is approving permits for aPodments without parking on the dubious premise that hundreds of new residents won't own cars.

As pointed out above, transit isn't always a viable option. This is particularly true for the demographic that's most likely to be living in aPodments, and the most likely segment of our population that's out-and-about exactly when transit goes to sleep.

Seems like there's a serious need for Seattle to coordinate its transportation and housing policies.

Posted Fri, Feb 28, 12:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Mspat references walking, biking, or using transit. That doesn't always work. My husband and I can't to go from Seattle to Bellevue by bus for a late day event, even if preferred.

It certainly doesn't work for a group of young adult women out together for an evening that ends at midnight or later. They are responsibly not choosing to drive. I think the City Council needs to reflect on that aspect of this debate as well...SAFETY. Sometimes they use a taxi and sometimes a TNC, but they get home without personally driving.

Shouldn't the number of available transport vehicles be greater at certain times of the evening? Doesn't that fit a vibrant city...one that wants to be NYC west.

The users, not just the providers, need to be part of the discussion. Is it about the app, the vehicle, demeanor of the driver, etc.? Seems more research should come before the final vote.

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 9:36 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes, you're explaining my point: we are paying for all these different transit options, but they really only serve for people going into and out of Seattle for work.

I agree no one should be driving after they've been drinking if that's what you mean by responsibly choosing not to drive on an evening that ends at midnight or later. Otherwise, I don't get it.

Another point I apparently didn't make clear: if we're investing in all these transit options because they are greener, what sense does it make to pay someone else to drive you. I would guess you spend approximately the same as if you had your own car, the car you hire is on the road increasing your carbon footprint just as if you were driving yourself, and yet all taxpayers, whether transit options serve them or not, and whether they serve them or not, are paying, paying, paying, and PAYING to have their streets torn up, narrowed, turned into dedicated bikeways.

I didn't know Seattle wants to be NYC west. For myself, I'd rather visit NYC if I want that life and those options. For home, I'd like less "vibrancy." Besides which, I am wondering how any of those vehicles could even move on Cap Hill when there are 800 or more and the streets have been altered as they are. Convenient for those paid drivers who're paid for waiting time, but expensive for the riders in time and treasure.

mspat

Posted Fri, Feb 28, 12:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Dick Faulkenbury, where where are you. How about an initiative?

pragmatic

Posted Fri, Feb 28, 2:07 p.m. Inappropriate

What is missing in the discussion is a full airing of the reasons for the success and public embrace of these transportation alternatives.

Throughout our society we are witnessing the disintermediating power of the Internet. Existing legacy providers of services are being challenged by upstarts who, using new technology, provide a better, more convenient service. Legacy providers suffer if they do not respond to the new approaches to their markets. The situation with taxis and ride share companies fits this exact scenario.

Those of us in Seattle who have used taxis for years chronically complain about the poor condition of taxis, rude drivers and the difficulty in arranging a cab promptly. As you know you cannot flag a cab in Seattle as you can in New York and most other cities. If you want a cab in Seattle you have to find a taxi stand, usually by a major downtown hotel. I often go the head of the line at the Sheraton Hotel, jump in and head to a meeting across town. Typically the cab driver is irritated because he was waiting for a fare from the hotel to the airport.

Add to that the finite number of taxi licenses in the City of Seattle that created artificial value (like New York City taxi medallions) in the licenses and little incentive for taxi license holders to do a better job. They had one of the finite licenses which was a guarantee of a nice economic return.

So, when I can use my smartphone to get a ride within moments from the front of my downtown building, in a clean car with a nice driver behind the wheel, I am thrilled. It is a better experience in every conceivable way.

The marketplace is brutal. You have to sink or swim. Why do we owe the taxis any slack for doing a horrible job in Seattle for a generation?

Regarding the regulation of these new companies, I see little point in having the City of Seattle get involved. Has there been a problem that City regulation will protect us from? Are there any examples of people being severely injured by a negligent driver without sufficient insurance? Does the City of Seattle have a file filled with grievances regarding ride share companies?
On the other hand, what does the file look like regarding problems people have had with taxis?

Seattle thrives on innovation and new technology. Mayor Murray would send a great signal to the local community and the broader world if he were to veto the proposed ordinance. With his veto he should send the council back to the drawing boards. He should challenge the council and challenge the taxi and ride share industries to come back with a comprehensive plan that everyone can agree to. Finally, if there is blood on the streets, it should be the blood of taxi owners who have had a sinecure from the City of Seattle and have ill-served our citizenry for a generation.

rerickson

Posted Sat, Mar 1, 6:01 p.m. Inappropriate

"Are there any examples of people being severely injured by a negligent driver without sufficient insurance?"

This is ridiculous; do you want to be the first? You are aware of the Lyft "incidents" in S.F.? I don't want them running their greedy uninsured circus here. If they want to hire out drivers for $, they need insurance.

In fact, I suggest that the City of Seattle itself could be liable if it permits these greed heads to grub money on our streets without requiring insurance.

louploup

Posted Mon, Mar 3, 11:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Google Sophia Liu and read about that tragedy in SF. 6-year-old girl killed by an UberX driver in a legal crosswalk, and UberX says they are not responsible because their driver didn't have a fare in the car at the moment of impact. UberX = morally bankrupt.

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 9:45 a.m. Inappropriate

I don't know what distinction you're trying to draw when you say "Are there any examples of people being severely injured by a negligent driver without sufficient insurance? Does the City of Seattle have a file filled with grievances regarding ride share companies?
On the other hand, what does the file look like regarding problems people have had with taxis?" Of course, there are currently a greater amount of complaints and severe injuries related to taxis; they've been operating a lot longer. And I can tell you with confidence that even the insurance rules for taxis are insufficient. If you were to be injured in a cab where the driver or company was negligent, you'd quickly encounter the cab company telling you it wasn't responsible because the cabbie was an independent contractor. I don't know how many cabbies purchase their own insurance to cover the time they're operating cabs, but I'd guess it's not many. That leaves you, the injured passenger, fighting the cab company in court while you're trying to heal, that is if you haven't been killed or sustained a TBI.
The rideshare companies will definitely do the same when the time inevitably comes, and in my opinion if the council doesn't act, they'll have a stronger argument to absolve them from liability, and you'll be looking at suing an underinsured, or uninsured for business, driver.
I'm sure you believe all the idealistic things you said, and I wish life would match up that way for you, but it doesn't always, and forewarned is forearmed.

mspat

Posted Sat, Mar 8, 9:21 a.m. Inappropriate

mspat: "I don't know how many cabbies purchase their own insurance to cover the time they're operating cabs, but I'd guess it's not many."

You are right. You don't know. Every taxi is required to carry commercial insurance as a condition of getting a for hire license. The vehicle is covered 24X7.

Cab companies do get sued but that is only in cases where the damages would exceed the limit of liability on the taxi's policy.

Taxis are paying between $6,500 to $13,000 per year per vehicle for insurance. The TNCs maybe $1,500 for non-commercial policies which are invalid.

Posted Fri, Feb 28, 2:46 p.m. Inappropriate

The post by rerickson has it right, particularly his key question, "Why do we owe the taxis any slack for doing a horrible job in Seattle for a generation." Requirements for background checks, driver training and commercial insurance make sense. But how does setting a cap on drivers do anything other than reduce economic efficiency?

urbanexus

Posted Sat, Mar 1, 9:21 p.m. Inappropriate

The taxi companies have only themselves to blame for this mess. They suck on providing service. For years they were the only game in town and they didn't need to worry about anything other than fleecing the customers. Now that customers have a choice, the whining starts up and down the money chain.

The city hates the idea of there being choices. That's why they have a cap on the number of cabs. The city doesn't want to lose the money they collect in fees from the dysfunctional cab companies. For a supposedly liberal Democratic city Seattle leaders don't embrace customer choices like they embrace high regulatory fees. In city government, fees rock, customers get the shaft.

Djinn

Posted Sun, Mar 2, 8:48 p.m. Inappropriate

One sign of a successful compromise is that neither side is 100% pleased. Some are apparently asking why new companies, entering a regulated industry, should themselves be subject to regulation. The answer should be obvious, and the ride share companies ought not to be surprised that it may take some time to earn the trust and respect of the regulators. Perhaps in that time the rules will change.

Posted Mon, Mar 3, 3:32 a.m. Inappropriate

You can sign up right now with promo code “ubermeplease” and get $20 off your first ride!
http://uber.com/invite/ubermeplease

ca53395

Posted Mon, Mar 3, 10:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Seems to me that the council missed the most obvious solution: create a system of TNC dispatched driver licenses: Issue 600 nontransferable licenses to drivers, for a fee, that are good for a specific amount of time (6 mos, 1 year) and then let drivers choose which TNC they want to work for. Each year (or periodically) the city could revisit the number of licenses and add more, or retire some if necessary. TNCs could finance the license purchase by a driver if the driver signs a contract with that TNC.

This kind of model would support the professionalization of the driver base. It would give the drivers power in the market and would make the TNCs compete for drivers, rather than giving the TNCs all the power, which is basically what the plan has done, and potentially prevent new TNCs from starting up.

gregoryh

Posted Mon, Mar 3, 8:06 p.m. Inappropriate

"After months of jam-packed meetings, a new City Council plan for regulating rideshare companies brings universal disapproval."

Gee. That means universal disapproval from the citizens these folks are supposed to be representing.

Definitely time to elect new city council folks. They are disconnected from the citizens they are supposed to represent (and agree with) by a huge margin.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 9:16 a.m. Inappropriate

That's exactly right. These folks forget that they are elected to further OUR agendas, not their own.

mspat

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