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

Rideshare companies catch a break with Mayor Murray's new plan. Credit: 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.

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