New rideshare plan removes driver caps, relaxes taxi regs

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

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