Licensing looms for ride-share drivers

The ride-share saga continues as the Seattle City Council looks at imposing new regulations.
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Regulatory changes could lie ahead for ride-share drivers.

The ride-share saga continues as the Seattle City Council looks at imposing new regulations.

The days of unchecked ride-sharing could be nearing an end in Seattle. The three regulatory options the City Council will discuss at a meeting on Thursday would either use existing laws to put the kibosh on ride-share apps like Sidecar, Lyft and UberX, or require ride-share drivers to get city-issued licenses. The options are outlined in a document prepared by council staff and the Department of Finance and Administrative Services.

Sally Clark, chair of the Committee on Taxi, For-Hire and Limousine Regulations, said it is unlikely that ride-sharing will be able to continue in Seattle without some kind of city-issued license for drivers. “That is pretty hard for me to envision,” she said. “Because you've got what I think is a commercial endeavor.” Clark added that she would be open to the idea of creating a new type of license for ride-share drivers, with less stringent requirements than the ones imposed on for-hire drivers.

With the first option presented in the document, the city would more strictly enforce existing taxi and for-hire regulations “to close [ride-share] services that are now operating.” With the second, the city would require drivers to obtain standard, city-issued, for-hire vehicle and driver’s licenses. The third option would require drivers to obtain a for-hire driver’s license, or a special ride-sharing driver’s license, but would not require them to license their vehicles.

Each of the options also offers myriad additional details for restructuring the rules that govern taxis, for-hire cars, ride-shares and limousines.

Clark also said the council would continue to debate what type of insurance ride-share drivers and companies need to carry. Under current for-hire licensing laws, drivers need to have commercial auto insurance polices. Many ride-share drivers only have personal auto insurance, but Sidecar, Lyft and UberX all have $1 million liability insurance polices that kick-in if there's an accident where the ride-share driver is at fault. Clark said that developing a full-fledged set of ride-share regulations could take months, but that the council could approve a set of interim regulations that set minimum standards for liability insurance, driver background checks and vehicle safety in the next few weeks.

Uber sent an email to users today, saying that the council could take action at Wednesday's meeting to shut down the use of ride-sharing apps in the city. Clark said that was not the case. “I don’t personally think we’re going to put the genie back in the bottle,” she said. “I don’t think anybody thinks we’re really going to put these guys out of business.”


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