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Council repeals ride-share regulations

The likelihood that Seattle will limit the number of Lyft, Sidecar and UberX vehicles allowed to operate on city streets diminished further on Monday, as the City Council repealed a set of ride-sharing regulations passed earlier this year.

By scrapping the ordinance that contained the regulations, the council set the stage to consider a compromise proposal Mayor Ed Murray's office recently brokered with representatives from ride-sharing companies and the traditional taxi and for-hire vehicle industry. The repealed ordinance would have limited the number of drivers allowed to use each of Seattle's ride-sharing services at any one time to 150. The compromise proposal that came out of the negotiations led by the Mayor's Office contains no such cap.

"We're very, very pleased the council decided to repeal the old ordinance today," said Brooke Steger, Uber's general manager in Seattle. "I'm kind of in disbelief right now."

For nearly a year, a City Council committee debated the best way to regulate services like Lyft, Sidecar and UberX, which the city has dubbed Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs. The services allow potential passengers to request rides through smart phone apps from people driving personal vehicles. The earlier council ordinance not only contained the driver caps, but also outlined requirements for TNC insurance coverage, vehicle standards and driver training.

After the council and the mayor approved the ordinance, however, Lyft and Uber poured money into a campaign for a ballot referendum, which would have allowed voters to decide on whether to maintain or toss out the new ride-sharing rules. After enough signatures were collected to get the referendum on the ballot, the ordinance was automatically suspended until the vote could take place. 

Lyft contributed $414,303 to the referendum campaign effort, and Uber chipped in $409,441, according to the most recent disclosure reports filed with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.

Not everyone is pleased with the mayor's compromise, which includes lincensing and insurance requirements for TNCs and also involves doling out 200 more taxi licenses and allowing flat rate for-hire drivers to pick up people who hail them on the streets.

"Most of the taxicab industry was not at the table," said Chris Van Dyk, general manager of Green Cab Taxi. "What the mayor should have been doing is suing to block the referendum."

Green Cab, along with other cab companies and taxi associations recently filed a complaint in King County Superior Court arguing that the referendum is invalid. A judge could make a decision in that case as early as Tuesday.

Van Dyk said that the biggest problem with the compromise is that it allows an unlimited number of TNC vehicles.

"Nobody will be making money in a few years," he said.

The council voted 6-3 to repeal the ordinance. Councilmembers Nick Licata, Kshama Sawant and Mike O'Brien cast the no votes, saying that they wanted to wait for the outcome of the referendum court case before moving forward with the repeal.

Sally Clark chaired the council committee that oversaw the effort to come up with the ordinance that contained the caps. On Monday she voted for its repeal.

"If we can get a better outcome through this compromise legislation," Clark said, "then we should take that opportunity."

Standing in the lobby of City Hall following the repeal vote, Samatar Guled, manager of Eastside For Hire expressed lukewarm approval for the compromise plan. 

He said: "We can live with it."

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