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Council puts limits on rideshare companies

The measure also will legalize their operations in the city of Seattle but a rideshare exec hopes Mayor Murray will reject the package.
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

A limit on rideshare vehicles for at least the next year is part of Seattle's City Council's new set of taxi and rideshare regulations approved in a unanimous vote Monday.

Seattle has three rideshare companies operating within the city, and each will be limited to 150 vehicles on the road at any one time. That translates to a limit of 450 rideshare vehicles, which the app-based companies had maintained would be inadequate to meet consumer needs. Current estimates say there are more than 2,000 drivers working for the firms in Seattle. Council members also agreed to explore raising that cap in one year.

The council also told the city staff to begin identifying and mapping out how to tackle future issues around taxis, limousines and rideshare issues. "The industry is changing, and I expect you'll all be eventually competing without caps," Councilmember Bruce Harrell told the audience, mostly taxi and rideshare drivers, who packed council chambers for the vote. 

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, a critic of the limits, said of Monday's taxi-rideshare vote: "This is not a perfect bill. But it's better than what we have now. ... This is a wake-up call to the city to how our transportation system is changing."

The new taxi-rideshare law is an attempt to balance innovation in the evolving transportation picture, consumer protection and fair competition with the long-regulated taxi industry. 

Uber ridershare's Seattle manager Brooke Steger issued a sharp statement about the council action. "It's astounding that that the city council has chosen to ignore the voices of nearly 30,000 constituents and move to put hundreds of drivers out of work," Steger said. "This fight is not over, and as we explore our options, we urge Mayor Murray to reject the anti-competitive and arbitrary caps that will slingshot Seattle's transportation ecosystem back into the Dark Ages."

Samatar Guled, an immigrant from Somalia who has driven a Seattle cab for 15 years, criticized the new companies' unwillingness to face regulations like the existing firms. "They're still afraid to compete with us. We’re refugees who are barely surviving," he said.

The new taxi-rideshare law is an attempt to balance how public transportation is evolving against not giving rideshare companies a free pass to the tougher rules followed by the taxi industry. The blossoming mobile-app rideshare industry has gained national scope, with three services now having footholds in Seattle — UberX, Lyft and Sidecar.

The new ordinance, which still needs Murray's signature to go into law, strengthens the insurance requirements on rideshare drivers to become close — if not the same — to what taxi drivers need. The complexities between providing insurance in the two similar-but-separate industries led to haziness Monday on whether the requirements are exactly the same. Driver testing and vehicle checks for rideshare drivers have become the same. The council added an amendment to the bill that forbids one corporation from owning more than one ridesharing subsidiary in Seattle, something that taxi drivers had pointed to as a potential way to sidestep the 150-driver cap. "This is to make sure we don't have an UberX, an UberY and an UberZ," 'said Councilmember Jean Godden.

Council members Rasmussen, Tim Burgess and Sally Bagshaw unsuccessfully tried to eliminate the cap on rideshare drivers. "It arbitrarily limits a popular service. ... Let’s not cut supply when the demand is so high," Rasmussen said. However, the majority of the council agreed with Councilmember Bruce Harrell's argument that taxis have limits on the numbers of licenses as well as facing strict regulations — and rideshares companies should face the same requirements.

Councilmember Sally Clark was the council's point person on this issue. She said the three rideshare companies started setting themselves up in Seattle before working out the details with the city government. She praised them for their innovations but pointedly criticized them on what had been seen by council members as slowness and reluctance to share detailed information that could have eased the shaping of the legislation. 


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 7:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Why didn't the city ever state to the uber cars that they were breaking the law in Seattle, and that they would start fining them?

Don't taxpayers have a fair and valid expectation that their city will defend the laws the city council have created?

Is this failure to enforce the law of the land and open invitation to other new companies who have hesitated to bring a new product or service into Seattle ... because it's against the law? And, no I am not talking about the open drug deals we all witness in our beautiful Seattle parks and downtown Seattle.

Working within the system seems more meaningful than simply ignoring it as Uber, Lyft and whatever other nose-thumbing ride sharing companies have been doing.

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 10:10 p.m. Inappropriate

One thing that really bothers me about the so-called ride share companies (they're actually taxis using a phony name) is their blatant disregard of laws and their screw-you attitude about it.

I think the city of Seattle has set a very bad example by allowing them to break the law during the past two years.

I assume that Uber, Lyft an Sidecar will probably disregard the new regulations just like they've disregarded previous ones. And will maybe get away with it unless our city government is serious about enforcing the regulations it makes.

And I'm tired of the bad mouthing of the taxi businesses--I've always had excellent, courteous on-time service from them.

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 11:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh my, somebody isn't obeying the rules! Call out the troops and stand the villains against the wall.

I'd be more sympathetic if the moaners insisted that all levels of government; federal, state, and local, enforced the rules and regulations they enacted, but we know that won't happen. Governments only enforce the rules and regulations that produce political capital or revenue in the form of fees and fines.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Mar 18, 9:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Enforce the laws, like not talking on the phone while driving a cab. Also, this issue is about mobility in the Seattle, not about protecting one one group of businesses. In the near future there will be for profit small bus lines and jitney's also joining in the mix of transportation options. I want more car2go's, trolley lines, bike lanes, bus service, taxis, TNC's in the market place. Good luck trying to put the Genie back in the bottle, because the public will only create more demand for choice in their mobility. Wait till driverless cars enter the market, what then? Will we limit that option too?

BarExam

Posted Tue, Mar 18, 12:16 p.m. Inappropriate

I really think that you miss the point. The discussion is not about mobility per se, but about how mobility takes place within the city.

Should it be an unregulated free-for-all? Or a thoughtful, rational process that makes the best use of resources such as limited public space?

Posted Tue, Mar 18, 3:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Are you characterizing the taxi regulatory system as "a thoughtful rational process"? No, it's the product of political cronyism protecting an inefficient outdated industry from competition. As Councilman Burgess said, it's like capping Netflix to protect Blockbuster. That is not what local government should do.

Too bad they didn't put a referendum clause in the ordinance.

simorgh

Posted Tue, Mar 18, 3:23 p.m. Inappropriate

How have TNC's negatively affected the law and order of our city? I've supported the evening of training and insurance, but what is the real concern?

BarExam

Posted Tue, Mar 18, 6:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Since they came to Seattle the City Council chambers are louder and more crowded than when the cartel was unchallenged.

simorgh

Posted Tue, Mar 18, 10:54 p.m. Inappropriate

For the best commentary on the city council's attempt to protect the taxi industry see this GeekWire post.
http://www.geekwire.com/2014/hey-seattle-stop-ride-sharing-just-cap-10-innovations-youre/

Posted Wed, Mar 19, 5:20 a.m. Inappropriate

exactly how many fewer jobs are were just UNcreated? Seattle's war on the low wage worker goes on...just wait till $15 comes around..can't get the apple growers to pay the minimum now, wonder what the city will do with all the new non-English speaking mouths that will need feeding once those apples are picked..oh,..wait my wallets always full..how about yours?..all those new tolls aren't even worth noting..wonder what Detroiter's used to say to themselves..probably the same thing the frog in the pot said...

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