Will the City Council swallow Ed Murray's ride-share plan?

Councilmember Mike O'Brien has concerns about insurance standards and wants more time to look over recently brokered legislation.

Under pressure from Lyft, Uber and some members of the traditional taxi and for-hire vehicle industry, the Seattle City Council could vote Monday to approve legislation containing a new set of ride-sharing regulations.

But at least one councilmember is saying, not so fast. 

Mike O'Brien plans to introduce a motion on Monday that would refer the legislation back to the council's Committee on Taxi, For-Hire and Limousine Regulations. Mayor Ed Murray sent the 113-page bill to the council about two weeks ago. It is the product of a recent negotiation process led by the Mayor's Office, which involved ride-sharing companies and taxi and flat rate for-hire representatives.

Ride-sharing companies have urged the council to pass the bill as-is quickly to avoid a protracted ballot initiative process.

"This is complex enough that we need to take at least a couple weeks to work through this bill," O'Brien said on Friday.

O'Brien also said that he would introduce an amendment to further tighten insurance standards for app-based ride-sharing services operating in the city.

Whether he can muster the votes needed to pass the motion or the amendment is unclear. Also uncertain is precisely how much latitude the council has to modify the compromise legislation before ride-sharing companies decide to bypass them and move forward with a ballot initiative.

Lyft and Uber responded to a set of regulations that the Council and the mayor approved earlier this year by dumping combined contributions upwards of $800,000 into a campaign for a ballot referendum.

The referendum would have asked voters to decide on whether to repeal the regulations, which included caps on the number of vehicles each ride-sharing service could have on the streets at any one time.

Once enough signatures were collected to get the referendum on the ballot, the new regulations were suspended until a vote could take place. Soon thereafter, the Mayor's Office initiated the negotiations that led to the current compromise bill. The ride-sharing companies have since agreed to stop the referendum effort, but have instead begun collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that contains their own preferred set of regulations.

"If some major change is made, it absolutely could result in going to the ballot," said Uber's Seattle general manager, Brooke Steger. "That definitely still is a possibility."

Meanwhile, questions about ride-sharing insurance requirements continue to dog the city's months-long effort to come up with rules for the insurgent car services, which allow passengers to request rides through smart-phone apps from drivers using personal vehicles.

The city refers to the services as transportation network companies, or TNCs. Lyft, Sidecar and UberX, the three major TNC operations in Seattle, each provides a $1 million liability insurance policy for their drivers. But that insurance is only designed to cover accidents that occur from the time a driver taps their smartphone to accept a passenger, until the time the passenger gets out of their car.

Lyft and Uber recently added coverage that provides up to $100,000 of insurance for incidents involving drivers who are logged into the apps awaiting ride requests. But this coverage is designed to kick-in only if a driver's personal auto insurer declines to cover an incident.

For O'Brien, that's not quite good enough.

He wants the TNCs to provide "exclusive" insurance coverage, from the time a driver logs-on to an app until the time they log-off. O'Brien's goal is to take personal auto insurance policies out of the ride-sharing equation.

"If they want to reshape the insurance industry, I'm all for that," O'Brien said. "But I'm not ready to experiment with our citizens and the city's resources."

Uber's Steger pointed out that during the time drivers are waiting for a ride request they could be conducting other business, or might even be logged into another ride-sharing app.

"You're definitely not engaged in commercial activity with us at that time," she said.


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Comments:

Posted Sat, Jul 12, 8:41 a.m. Inappropriate

O'Brien is totally correct; no commercial insurance should mean no commercial activity.

louploup

Posted Sat, Jul 12, 11:57 a.m. Inappropriate

113 pages is probably too many, but is surely no "we have to pass it to find out what's in it."

With policy 'analysts' having reduced themselves to counting where the places we emulate are, the Council can take comfort in NYC and Portland still at the poking-at-consequences-with sticks stage, or so says chief policy analyst, the Seattle Times.

afreeman

Posted Sat, Jul 12, 12:54 p.m. Inappropriate

No to Murray's plan. O'Brien is correct that insurance remains a very live issue. Others are correct in saying that costs of injuries under the current plan likely would be borne by taxpayers in one way or another. Furthermore, we don't need an unlimited number of cars all cruising around hoping someone pings their cell for a ride. We can't move in the traffic already as the construction drags on and the city keeps reducing two lane streets to one lane streets and allowing/creating closures here, there, and everywhere as the forest of high rises is created. No, no, no. This is a bad idea and should be rejected.

mspat

Posted Sat, Jul 12, 3:03 p.m. Inappropriate

"Uber's Steger said that in Seattle a personal insurer has never declined a claim filed for an accident that has happened when a driver was awaiting a ride-request on the UberX app."

Steger is lying. To the extent this is true, it is only because the UberX driver is not telling his insurance company that he is operating a for hire service.

How can the City of Seattle sign on to this insurance scam? This would make the city partners in fraud.

Posted Sat, Jul 12, 9:06 p.m. Inappropriate

"To the extent this is true" -- do you have any incident where it is not true? Do you have evidence, or are you merely name-calling?

Surely if this is a problem in Seattle we would have more examples than one gruesome San Francisco case. One swallow does not a summer make.

simorgh

Posted Sun, Jul 13, 9:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Are you really that stupid that you think that the Sofia Liu case is the only example of an personal insurer denying a claim for a TNC driver? It is just the most egregious to date because of a fatality.

Here is another:

http://www.nbcbayarea.com/investigations/Is-Uber-Keeping-Riders-Safe-256438921.html

Posted Mon, Jul 14, 1:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Bay area again.

Who pays you, claimsadjuster?

simorgh

Posted Sat, Jul 12, 5:49 p.m. Inappropriate

The purpose of automobile liability insurance is to compensate victims of bad driving (except for the driver her/himself). There is no justification for a selective crackdown on uninsured motorists who happen to be employed in one industry. If there are thousands of uninsured motorists driving on the streets of Seattle, and if that is a problem for the rest of us, let enforcement of the state's laws begin. Impound the vehicles of repeat violators, for example.

Perhaps this would adversely impact low-income drivers, instead of their victims. Whatever, let the chips fall where they may. But selective enforcement of mandatory insurance should not be a weapon in the arsenal of those who wish to protect the status quo taxi cartel.

O'Brien voted for caps not competition. This is just one more attempt to thwart innovation. Enough!

simorgh

Posted Sun, Jul 13, 8:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Can someone explain how - practically, not legally speaking - an accident can be attributed to the TNC driver while logged in but not actively engaged with a client? By engaged I mean en route to pick up or actively driving with a client.

Legally speaking, the determination is at the whims of the law and the insurance policies. But those can be changed. Practically speaking, is it fair to pay extra insurance when you're out and about on errands but are logged into the app just in case someone requests a ride?

Perhaps it is too much of a grey area - are you on an errand or picking someone up - and insurance companies want a more clear cut determination.

Anyone have further knowledge?

pragmatic

Posted Sun, Jul 13, 9:38 p.m. Inappropriate

If you are logged in, you are working.

Posted Sun, Jul 13, 5:30 p.m. Inappropriate

It's not clearly stated in the article but I would assume that Uber's liability insurance is a backup that can only be used to replace the driver/owner's insurance when the driver is carrying a customer. Uber would probably justify this because many Uber drivers are also using their cars for personal use. That might be a workable and safe arrangement if the driver's everyday insurance company does not prohibit the commercial use.

kieth

Posted Sun, Jul 13, 9:37 p.m. Inappropriate

All personal insurance policies exclude coverage for using your vehicle as a txi.

Posted Sun, Jul 13, 10:25 p.m. Inappropriate

What is the exact wording of the standard exclusion? The precise language may or may not apply to drivers who are not actually transporting anyone. Because you are a Claims Adjuster you have access to the policies and their exact wording. Please present it so we can evaluate what you say.

simorgh

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 11:09 a.m. Inappropriate

I am not a claims adjuster but I can tell you that insurance policies vary in their language from company to company and within companies at times. As Claims Adjuster says, all personal insurance policies exclude coverage for using your vehicle as a taxi; that requires another kind of insurance. You can bet that the insurance companies are watching this closely and that any whose policies are not absolutely clear about excluding coverage for passengers of these services will be changing them toward exclusion. The taxpayers will end up picking up the tab both for injured passengers' medical expenses, payment replacement, and to pay for the lawsuits against the city that are sure to arrive soon for negligently failing to include an effective insurance requirement. Have fun with your phone, but be careful to look up while crossing the streets. If one of the folks live on these services happens to hit you you may come to feel differently about them.

mspat

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 1:42 p.m. Inappropriate

So there is no standard understanding of whether one who is waiting or available to be contacted is "using your vehicle as a taxi" and that no incident in this state has ever tested this issue -- which is why the only cases we hear about are from California which has different laws.

Can we expect anyone else who posts here to call for a crackdown on uninsured motorists?

simorgh

Posted Sun, Jul 13, 7:22 p.m. Inappropriate

"Under pressure from Lyft, Uber and some members of the traditional taxi and for-hire vehicle industry,"

You left out all of us citizens who are sick and tired of the awful taxi service in Seattle. The worst I've witnessed anywhere in the world.

Simon

Posted Mon, Jul 14, 2:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Consumers were not part of the Mayor's group which negotiated this deal. Rider interests were barely considered in the City Council's original process.

Does that surprise you?

simorgh

Posted Sat, Jul 19, 7:59 a.m. Inappropriate

It's interesting that Uber's Seattle GM, Brooke Steger, seems to be trying to pass herself off as an insurance expert. If you're waiting for a ride request, are you conducting business or not?

According to her:
"You're definitely not engaged in commercial activity with us at that time," she said.

In some ways, this seems pretty simple. Government regulations should do be equal for all players. ALL players. Policy should keep the playing field level for everyone. What it sounds like is happening (in Seattle) is that Uber, is wanting the bar lowered just for them. The argument seems to be, "Taxi service in Seattle sucks, so screw them!"

If no commercial activity is taking place between rides, then that policy should apply for the regular taxis as well. Do insurance companies even offer that type of coverage? It would seem that a high level of monitoring of the drivers would need to take place for this to even be a possibility.

Posted Sat, Jul 19, 8:16 a.m. Inappropriate

The more one reads this quote from Uber's Seattle GM, Brooke Steger, the more obvious it is that it's irrelevant:

"You're definitely not engaged in commercial activity with us at that time," she said.

Note the distinction that she makes about "commercial activity with us.."

That's completely irrelevant. The question is whether someone is pursuing commercial activity WITH THE PUBLIC.

Let's say you own a Subway sandwich store but there are no customers in the store. Should they get a lower rate of insurance for the times no customers are in the store?

Should Metro transit pay a lower rate of insurance when no passengers are on their buses?

Should Sound Transit pay a lower rate of insurance when their light rail trains have no passengers?

Should taxis drivers pay a lower rate of insurance when they are driving without a paying passenger?

The Seattle City Council needs to take their time and tell Uber to knock off the threats. These are serious policy questions and Steger isn't the one to be providing the answers.

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