New rideshare plan removes driver caps, relaxes taxi regs

In an effort to level the playing field - and avoid a rideshare referendum - Ed Murray tries to un-stifle Seattle transportation innovation.
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

After weeks of negotiations with popular rideshare services, taxi companies, and city leaders, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Monday announced a tentative agreement that would allow the popular ride-sharing firms to operate with no cap on the number of drivers and also relax some taxi regulations in order to “level the playing field.”

“It is an agreement born out of the need to embrace technology that is rapidly transforming every aspect of our society,” Murray said.

The plan, if approved by the Seattle City Council, would replace a rideshare ordinance passed in March that had imposed a cap of 150 drivers (per rideshare service) on the road at any one time. That ordinance irked many rideshare proponents, leading to a referendum headed for the ballot box.

In addition to effectively killing the referendum, the new plan would also extend hailing rights to for-hire drivers and require rideshare drivers to be licensed and insured in a manner similar to taxi cab drivers. It also calls for the City to provide 200 additional taxi licenses over the next four years, and to have those licenses transition to property rights, which is similar to the valuable taxi medallions used in other cities.

The previous 150 driver-per-service limit, argued the popular rideshare firms, would have put hundreds of operators out of work. Current estimates say there are more than 2,000 rideshare drivers working in Seattle.

During Monday’s press conference, the mayor was flanked by a wheelchair-accessible taxi operator, representatives from Lyft and Uber, and Abdul Yusuf, owner of CNG For Hire and a member of the For-Hire Drivers and Owners Association. Yusuf said the new plan, which would pave the way for 200 more taxi licenses over the next four years and transition taxi and for-hire licenses to a property right similar to a medallion in other cities, would empower for-hire owners.

“[The medallions] will give us the opportunity to borrow because it is property and not just a license,” Yusuf said. “It will enable us to compete.

 “Today is a first step on a path to securing a future for ridesharing in Seattle,” said Lyft in a statement following the announcement. “… We appreciate Mayor Murray's desire to find a solution that prioritizes public safety without stifling innovation, and we will continue to work collaboratively to improve transportation access, safety and affordability for Seattle residents.”

Not everyone was so happy about the announcement.

Chris Van Dyk is the general manager of Green Cab Taxi and a plaintiff in a lawsuit aimed at stopping the rideshare referendum. Van Dyk said he supports the earlier driver caps and strongly opposes the mayor’s new plan, calling it a “bogus compromise” and comparing it to the Titanic.

“This is going to devastate the taxi industry in Seattle,” said Van Dyk, arguing that the plan would let anyone into the industry and make it impossible for drivers to earn a living wage. “We find it absolutely offensive that the mayor would use the threat of a referendum to force taxi cabs into an agreement that is not good for taxi cabs.”

Taxi photo by C4Chaos/Flickr.

Jimmy Lovaas is a freelance journalist and photographer in the Seattle area covering breaking news for Crosscut.com, Reutyers and other outlets.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jun 16, 8:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Taxi companies aren't happy? Feel like they're getting a bad deal?

Well, now they know what it feels like to be one of their customers.

Simon

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 11:09 p.m. Inappropriate

... says a "progressive" whose main complaint is the complexion of the taxi drivers.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Jun 24, 11:42 a.m. Inappropriate

really? Please provide any evidence you have about Simon's reasoning process that you may have. Or stop the racist name-calling.

simorgh

Posted Tue, Jun 24, 1:42 p.m. Inappropriate

The racists are Seattle's "progressives" who simply cannot abide a dark-skinned taxi driver.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Jun 16, 10:51 p.m. Inappropriate

I've been in Seattle long enough to remember the last time we de-regulated the taxi industry. It was not pretty, and everyone was begging for re-regulation after a few years. Yes, the technology has changed, but I'm not convinced that eliminates all problems associated with free entry.

Oh, and remember Sophia Liu.

Posted Tue, Jun 17, 7:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Remember Cooper Stock ... and Kelly Gordon ....oh that's right, they were recently killed by a taxi drivers so let's not remember them, because a taxi driver has never killed anyone. Sure. I believe that.

Sorry, the taxi service in Seattle is horrible, the worst I've experienced anywhere. It's a new world, get on the bus (sorry, get on the TNC) or get out of the way. I look forward to seeing taxis being scrapped.

Simon

Posted Tue, Jun 17, 9:04 a.m. Inappropriate

The core issue with Sophia Liu isn't that she was killed by an Uber driver, but that Uber denied responsibility because their driver was in between fares. All operators providing rides for money need to be adequately insured, and it's the responsibility of regulatory agencies to assure that they are. Google Sophia Liu and Uber and read the whole sad story.

Posted Tue, Jun 17, 11:11 a.m. Inappropriate

Is there a problem of uninsured drivers on the streets of Seattle? Of those, what fraction are en route to a ride share client?

My guess is that uninsured drivers are quite numerous (and all in violation of state law), and that thw fraction who are employed by Uber and Lyft is tiny. If those who post on behalf of the taxi cartel want a general crackdown on uninsured motorists, so be it. Let them speak plainly about the problem of uninsured drivers, if that is what they care about.

simorgh

Posted Tue, Jun 17, 2:17 p.m. Inappropriate

It's NOT that Uber and Lyft have uninsured drivers -- or that the driver who killed Sophia Liu in SF didn't have insurance... The PROBLEM is that no matter how many people call these services "ridesharing," they're not. So drivers who think they're covered with their current personal insurance, will have NO COVERAGE if they get into an accident while carrying a passenger for money. And Uber and Lyft are fighting tooth and nail to have to cover such accidents as part of commercial coverage because they claim all their drivers are "independent contractors" responsible for their own insurance.

Mickymse

Posted Tue, Jun 17, 3:12 p.m. Inappropriate

And why is that a greater problem than the thousands of other drivers who have no insurance coverage? I really would like to believe there is a sincere interest in getting uninsured drivers off the road rather than in reducing competition or protecting the taxi cartel.

Do you have a financial interest in this issue, Mickymse? Anything you'd like to disclose? I have none.

simorgh

Posted Wed, Jun 18, 8:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Wow, simorgh. You're saying that because some scofflaw motorists drive uninsured, society should tolerate huge corporations sending their drivers onto city streets without insurance? That's just nuts, and I suspect you know it.

Selling rides in an urban environment is a regulated enterprise, and one of those regulations requires that ride sellers be insured, both to protect their fares and to protect the public at large. I suspect that Uber and the others are coming to accept this, that it's untenable for their drivers to run over people and then deny responsibility.

Anybody who doubts the magnitude of the issue (yes, you, simorgh), please google Sophia Liu and Uber and read the whole sad story.

Posted Wed, Jun 18, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Even the heavily regulated taxi companies try to escape responsibility when their drivers' negligence causes someone riding in their cabs to be injured. They, too, claim the drivers are independent contractors, which doesn't always fly, but sometimes does. That leaves the innocent injured taxi rider to go after the drivers' personal insurance, which is usually minimal and insufficient to compensate them. But at least it's something. As others pointed out, Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, et al, want to make sure that they are not held responsible for damages caused by a negligent driver carrying someone who found them through their apps.

Certainly there's a legitimate concern to get all uninsured drivers off the road. That's why it's illegal. The two issues both share a concern for public safety, but we citizens have a greater interest in making sure that government doesn't allow for hire drivers to be transporting passengers unless they have sufficient insurance to cover the risk. For that matter, I'd speculate that if government did not require sufficient insurance from these entities, by sanctioning their operation it could be opening itself to liability. Want to pay that bill?

mspat

Posted Wed, Jun 18, 3:02 p.m. Inappropriate

I am saying that if the problem is uninsured motorists, attack that problem systematically. Do not single out the industries which compete with those who post on this site.

We the people of Seattle do not have a greater interest in attacking transportation companies, that makes no sense. If uninsured motorists are a problem, and a violation of the law, let's encourage fair enforcement of those laws. If our City Attorney and police have a "tolerance policy" tolerating uninsured motorists, let them justify this. Focusing on a tiny minority of those drivers who compete with the taxi cartel is a distraction, or worse.

simorgh

Posted Tue, Jun 17, 8:59 a.m. Inappropriate

In a generation or two they'll all be Johnny Cabs anyway, which frankly will be a lot more convenient and safer for everyone.

talisker

Posted Tue, Jun 17, 10:18 a.m. Inappropriate

If I hadn't had doubts about Murray's ability to be mayor before, I sure have them now. How is it that allowing 2000 cars of all kinds to be roaming downtown, and possibly other, streets going to promote people using all the buses, trains, and streetcars, or for that matter how is it going to be safe to try to cross streets on foot with all those cars jockeying for position and competing for fares? Of all the possible solutions, this is about the dumbest. The simple, and in my opinion correct, solution would be to have cab companies free to develop and deploy their own smart phone apps for potential fares to use, and to allow the very modest 150 cars at a time, not for each "rideshare" service but in total, to remain the same. I don't know how many taxis are on the streets at any given moment, but anyone trying to get through downtown is already meeting congestion never seen before, and it's getting worse already. When these "rideshare" services are going full bore and flooding our streets with thousands of additional vehicles, how will anyone else be able to travel? And isn't there something wrong with that? We pay for the streets. Shouldn't we be able to use them? Terribly disappointed. Hope we're looking at another one term mayor, unless of course there's someone even worse waiting in the wings.

mspat

Posted Tue, Jun 17, 8:11 p.m. Inappropriate

"how is it going to be safe to try to cross streets on foot with all those cars jockeying for position and competing for fares? "

Are you really this dumb? They don't "jockey" for fares; they get called by the app when a customer requests them. This is why luddites shouldn't make policy.

Simon

Posted Wed, Jun 18, 8:54 a.m. Inappropriate

How about the cabbies that will be competing with them? How about with the unlimited cars allowed under Murray's plan the fact that there will likely be hundreds of cars all cruising round and round hoping to be in the right place at the right time?

And how about how rude you are to personally attack me when you know nothing about me? Certainly doesn't boost your credibility with me, and likely not with others who value polite discourse.

mspat

Posted Wed, Jun 18, 3:04 p.m. Inappropriate

If there are too many cars "jockeying" for fares, the drivers will know that and stay home or go elsewhere. That's how a free market works.

simorgh

Posted Wed, Jun 18, 4:59 p.m. Inappropriate

"How about with the unlimited cars allowed under Murray's plan the fact that there will likely be hundreds of cars all cruising round and round hoping to be in the right place at the right time?"

Again, they don't need to be in the right place at the right time. I live in Ballard and I can pull up the app and see a dozen cars within about half a mile. I just click on one and it comes to me. Uber doesn't work by a customer standing curbside like a monkey waving down taxis. You order from your home, cafe, wherever you are and they come to you. They are not 'cruising' for fares.

Also, because Uber is so efficient their cars are more evenly distributed around Seattle than taxis. Ever tried to order a taxi in a quiet neighborhood in Seattle? 30-60 minute wait. Uber? There in 5 minutes. Plus they accept credit cards, no tipping, just step in, step out and go. Simple and beautiful.

The taxi monopoly will hopefully be driven out of business. I will dance on its grave.

Simon

Posted Thu, Jun 19, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

They don't cruise around. They wait for fares. It doesn't make any sense for them to just drive around and waste gas if they don't have a call.

It's just one of the many ways that Uber and Lyft are much, much smarter models for car hires than taxi cabs. They are much less wasteful.

talisker

Posted Tue, Jun 24, 1:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Uber and Lyft are much, much smarter models for car hires than taxi cabs. They are much less wasteful.

Seattle's "progressives" love them for two reasons. One is that the drivers are white, and the "progressives" here would so much rather be served by other white people.

The other is that, because you need an internet device and a credit card to use Uber or Lyft, no poor folk will ever use them. This precludes the possibility of the kind of unwelcome smells that make Seattle's "progressives" recoil.

To a Seattle "progressive," smart means white and yuppie.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Jun 18, 4:53 p.m. Inappropriate

"How about the cabbies that will be competing with them?"

They can't compete with good service, good technology and efficient markets. That's the whole point. Evolve of die.

Simon

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 7:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Your response above, that "I live in Ballard and I can pull up the app and see a dozen cars within about half a mile" proves my point. Estimating 12 blocks to a mile, that's two cars per block in your half mile. Are you seriously suggesting they just happen to be nearby, that it's a coincidence rather than that they're cruising for fares?

mspat

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 11:11 p.m. Inappropriate

Yep, and that rules out poor people from Uber and Lyft, which is what Seattle's "progressives" want. They can't possibly stand to ride in a car that was previous occupied by the underclass.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Jun 17, 2:13 p.m. Inappropriate

What do you expect? Jeff Bezos bought and paid for Murray fair and square!

Barbp

Posted Tue, Jun 17, 8:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Huh? What does Bezos have to do with Uber or are you some bizarro, shotgunning technophobe? And please site how Bezos 'paid' for Murray? You know, show evidence.

Simon

Posted Tue, Jun 17, 8:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Simon: if you would stop being such an obnoxious a-hole readers might actually consider what you have to say. Give it a break man.

Posted Thu, Jun 19, 11:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Bring back the horse and buggy!

Simon

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 10:06 a.m. Inappropriate

The independents would not be so popular if the established taxi companies were not doing such a terrible job.

I am a taxi rider. A cab arrives in 10 minutes or so. My problem is that the ride itself can be a harrowing experience. One driver insisted on going down a narrow street with a van already in it coming in our direction. The driving just got worse. When i asked the driver to stop and let me out, he refused. I could not just leave because i had items in the trunk. Another taxi driver nearly hit a parked car while answering his cell phone.

I look forward to transportation choices. Murray is doing what needs to be done to start the process of providing us with choices. Not perfect but a start.

Sophia

Posted Tue, Jun 24, 1:45 p.m. Inappropriate

You look forward to the choice of a white driver of a vehicle that can only be called with an iPad, and paid for with a credit card, which excludes the possibility that the vehicle you ride will have ever been used by the underclass.

Seattle's "progressives" do everything in their power to insulate themselves from non-white and poor people.

NotFan

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