Uber, Lyft release driver numbers as vote on ridesharing rules is postponed

Councilmember Sally Clark calls the newly revealed information a 'good step forward' but says the companies need to provide more detail.
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

Facing regulations they view as too stringent, Uber and Lyft have released information about the number of drivers using their ridesharing apps in Seattle.

Last week, in a 5-4 committee vote, the City Council approved legislation that would allow only 150 drivers on each of Seattle's ridesharing apps at any one time. For months, the taxi-like tech companies operating the apps have been unresponsive to council requests for driver counts.

On Thursday, however, Uber said that more than 300 drivers regularly use its UberX service simultaneously and that a total of about 900 drivers are active on the app. Lyft said that more than 1,000 drivers have passed through its safety approval process here, but did not say whether all of them are using the service, or how many are active at one time. A spokesperson for a third ridesharing service, Sidecar, said the company has nearly 1,000 registered drivers in Seattle.

There was no immediate way to check the figures' accuracy.

Councilmember Sally Clark, who chairs the committee looking at the issue, said that while the new information was "a good step forward" she'd like to see the companies work with the council to verify the numbers. Clark voted for the legislation containing the driver caps.

Uber and Lyft did not respond to requests for comment Friday, about whether they would share more information on the counts with the council.

Around the same time that Uber and Lyft released the figures, the council postponed a final vote on the legislation, moving it from this Monday (March 10) to March 17. A council spokesperson said yesterday that the delay is because Councilmember Nick Licata will be out of town during Monday's full council meeting.

The legislation includes not only the 150-driver cap, but also new standards for insurance, driver training and vehicle inspections for ridesharing. The council refers to rideshare services as "transportation network companies," or "TNCs."

If the legislation is enacted, It's unclear how the city would keep tabs on the number of vehicles that are "live" on each app. Clark said that if the rules go into effect, the Department of Financial and Administrative Services would give the council a monitoring plan.

A "fiscal note" attached to the legislation includes a new "research and evaluation assistant" position at Financial and Administrative Services. This person would help gather and analyze operating data from the TNCs, according to a description in the note. Under the proposed legislation, each TNC would pay the city $50,000 or 0.35 percent of annual gross revenue, whichever is greater, to help cover regulatory costs.

The debate over regulating the apps has been stewing in the City Council since last spring. Taxi and flat rate for-hire drivers say it’s unfair that they have to compete with drivers using their personal vehicles to pick up passengers. TNC drivers, they say, pay far lower insurance rates and deal with fewer city rules. The TNCs say that restrictions on the number of drivers allowed to use their apps would effectively put them out of business in Seattle.

After last week's committee meeting, cabbies and others in the traditional taxi industry criticized the council's legislation because it doesn't include a cap on the number of TNCs. They fear that ridesharing companies would get around the caps by replicating their apps.

Clark said there were no plans to restrict the number of TNCs. "No city has gone down this road yet to see if [the companies] will clone themselves," she added.

The council legislation also calls for the city to issue 100 new taxicab licenses annually this year and next. The number of taxicab licenses in Seattle is now capped at 850.

Check out Crosscut’s City Beat page for all the news and commentary about Seattle.

Bill Lucia writes about Seattle City Hall and politics for Crosscut. He can be reached at bill.lucia@crosscut.com and you can follow him on Twitter @bill_lucia.


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Comments:

Posted Sat, Mar 8, 11:42 a.m. Inappropriate

On a Friday night in Capital Hill, a car showed up within 3 minutes with a great driver. Amazing.

Ridesharing reduces car dependency, traffic congestion and pollution while giving drivers an increased wage at a reduced cost for the passenger.

The Seattle City Council is wise to make sure drivers on ridesharing services undergo background checks and have insurance.

However, the proposal to protect a pre-existing monopoly by limiting the number of drivers in the ridesharing companies would be harmful. As Democratic Washington State Representative Cyrus Habib recently pointed out, "[a]rtificially capping rideshares serves absolutely no public interest." Worse, attempting to thwart competition in the marketplace is politics at it's worst.

This would be an equivalent act of capping the number of restaurants in Seattle in order to protect the revenue of existing restaurants so as to give them a de facto monopoly.

Reasonable regulation of ridesharing services without monopoly protecting caps is both green, progressive and smart and is an approach that should be supported by the Seattle City Council.

Ebjornson

Posted Sat, Mar 8, 3:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Taxi services, no matter what you call them, operate on city streets and highways. They are not equivalent to restaurants operating on private property that they own or rent. When businesses use city streets as the essential ingredient for earning money, the city has a right, maybe even an obligation to regulate that enterprise in the public interest.

What City Council is trying to do is avoid what happened last time we deregulated taxi services and allowed unlimited entry -- a race to the bottom. Service deteriorated, nobody could earn a living, and everybody welcomed a return to a regulated environment.

I realize there are lots of newcomers to Seattle who didn't live through that experience. I just wish they would acknowledge that there are consequences to an unregulated taxi industry, and a history we don't want to relive.

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 11:08 p.m. Inappropriate

They are not "ridesharing"--they are rides for hire. Please stop using a fraudulent and misleading name.

louploup

Posted Mon, Mar 10, 9:11 a.m. Inappropriate

"Ridesharing reduces car dependency, traffic congestion an pollution"? REALLY??? That statement is false and absurd. Those who use the "ridesharing" services are still car dependent since, hello, they're traveling in CARS. They're just not traveling in their own cars. Replacing privately owned cars with cars someone else drives neither reduces traffic congestion nor pollution. It's the same thing; it's a car on the road taking up space and polluting, just like private cars.

mspat

Posted Mon, Mar 10, 10:37 a.m. Inappropriate

And I want to add that these so-called ridesharing services might actually be adding cars if those who use them could be walking, bicycling, or taking public transit instead. Adding cars would only exacerbate the car dependency, traffic congestion, and pollution.

mspat

Posted Sat, Mar 8, 3:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Why regulate price/capacity by constraining competitive innovation? (seems quite un R are too) Uber is certainly not cheaper then a cab. But they DO show up. Put in place the safety and insurance regulations and then see what happens. Maybe the cab companies will start providing better service and there isn't a race to the bottom.

The TNC services are succeeding because they are meeting an unmet market dynamic. Let'um roll we might just end up with a more and better services.

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 11:58 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.

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