UberX, Sidecar, Lyft driver caps become focus of rideshare debate

At least five councilmembers favor limiting the number of app-based drivers who can use their personal cars. Three others and the Mayor aren't convinced.
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Rideshare companies catch a break with Mayor Murray's new plan.

At least five councilmembers favor limiting the number of app-based drivers who can use their personal cars. Three others and the Mayor aren't convinced.

Driver caps have emerged as one of the final sticky issues in the Seattle City Council’s effort to craft ridesharing regulations. With a committee vote looming, councilmembers disagree about how many Lyft, Uber and Sidecar drivers should be allowed to use their own vehicles to pick up passengers.

The full council is considering a draft ordinance that would limit the number of rideshare drivers using personal vehicles to 300. Five council members support some type of cap. Three members and Mayor Ed Murray do not. The ordinance also allows for-hire drivers with commercially licensed vehicles, like taxis, to use the apps. This means that roughly 900 cabbies and flat rate drivers could potentially work with companies like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar. How many would actually do so remains unclear.

“Ultimately we might have to see a compromise,” said councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who opposes the proposed limits, saying they would stifle innovation and reduce the city’s transportation options.

The ordinance would create a rideshare pilot program that ends on June 30, 2016. The legislation refers to ridesharing services as Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs.

The ridesharing debate has been stewing in the council for nearly a year now. Cabbies and flat rate for-hire drivers say TNC drivers compete for their customers while enjoying lower insurance rates and fewer regulations. The TNCs argue that driver or vehicle caps will hinder their business model and could cause them to shut down in Seattle.

All nine councilmembers attended Friday’s Committee on Taxi, For-hire and Limousine Regulations meeting. They chose not to vote on an amendment introduced by committee chair Sally Clark that would have doubled the TNC driver cap to 600. Clark, along with committee members Bruce Harrell and Mike O’Brien, would like to see limits on the number of TNC drivers using personal cars. Nick Licata, according to a staffer, backs a cap. Jean Godden voiced support during the meeting for one between 300 and 600.

O'Brien likened the limit on ridesharing drivers to past legislation that required food trucks to park minimum distances away from existing restaurants. And because many taxi and for-hire drivers are from minority and immigrant communities he doesn’t see how the council could allow the rideshare companies to operate as they do now, “without violating and undermining all the work we do on race and social justice.”

“I support creating space for innovation,” said O'Brien at the meeting, before noting that he backs the 300-driver cap for personal vehicles. “I’m very flexible on looking at, within the pilot, adjusting that number.”

Like Bagshaw, Tom Rasmussen and Tim Burgess don't favor driver caps. Although in a Friday afternoon blog post Burgess seemed flexible and said if a council-majority favors limiting the number of drivers, he could back Clark’s amendment that raises the cap to 600.

Rasmussen doesn't “see any compelling reason,” for caps, arguing that the apps provide a way for people like students and retirees to make extra money. “The problem that we have is that we’re just picking numbers out of the air.”

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