Follow us:

Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

March 25, 2014 at 6:03 AM

Taxi industry sues Uber; readers respond to ride-service regulations

The war between taxis and  ride-services continues following last week’s unanimous decision by the Seattle City Council to limit app-based networks such as Sidecar, Lyft and uberX to 150 drivers per company at any time.

From left, Parmjit Singh, an owner-driver of a FarWest taxicab, and Said Fatah, a flat-rate driver, cheer as the Seattle City Council approves a cap and stronger regulations on Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like uberx, Lyft and Sidecar in a standing-room only meeting packed with supporters from both the TNCs and taxi/for-hire drivers at Seattle City Hall Monday March 17, 2014. (Photo by Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times)

From left, Parmjit Singh, an owner and driver of a Farwest taxi, and Said Fatah, a flat-rate driver, cheer as the Seattle City Council approves a cap and stronger regulations on Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like uberX, Lyft and Sidecar in a standing-room only meeting packed with supporters from both the TNCs and taxi and for-hire drivers at Seattle City Hall on March 17. (Photo by Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times)

On Monday afternoon, Geekwire reported that the Western Washington Taxicab Operators Association has filed a lawsuit against Uber for operating illegally throughout the region. According to the story, the lawsuit claims Uber “engages in an unlawful and deceptive business practice which harms the economic interests of taxicab drivers.”

Soon after, Brooke Steger, Uber’s general manager in Seattle, emailed a brief response to the media: “Uber remains focused on connecting people with the safest and most reliable transportation options in Seattle and protecting the thousands of small business jobs created by our technology platform. It is unfortunate that the taxi industry is not similarly focused on what really matters: safety of riders and opportunity for drivers.”

Quiet support during the March 17 hearing is made by this person of Lyft with a small, pink mustache. (Photo by Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)

Quiet support during the March 17 hearing is made by this person of Lyft with a small, pink mustache. (Photo by Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)

In other news, Crosscut writes that a nonprofit called Democracy Workshop filed an initiative last Friday with the city of Seattle to remove the caps. Seems like a premature, knee-jerk reaction. The better course is to let the city figure out how it’s going to enforce the limit in the first place Also, the ride-service companies should just cooperate with the city and prove whether that 150 figure is too low. Lawmakers have indicated a willingness to change the cap according to whatever the data say.

The Seattle Times’ March 14 editorial called on Mayor Ed Murray to overhaul the city’s outdated taxi rules, which coasted along for years before the onslaught of app-based transportation services. Last Wednesday, he responded to the council’s vote by promising a “long-term solution.” Good.

Here’s an excerpt from Murray’s blog:

I still believe that capping the number of TNCs is not workable over time, and that the specific number set by council is unreasonably low. I still believe that the existing regulatory framework as applies to taxis is unfair and in need of reform. And while the council’s proposal makes important progress by mandating insurance for TNCs at parity with taxis and slightly easing the existing mandates for taxis, I believe that these mandates are still overly burdensome.

But, in politics, as in life generally, the perfect can often be the enemy of the good. While the council’s proposal is far from perfect, it does make necessary progress on an issue that we cannot afford to ignore and which is too urgent to start all over on. There is still more progress we can and must make on this issue.

I plan to immediately begin working with stakeholders and council to build on their diligent efforts of the past year and arrive at a more long-term, comprehensive solution.

And what about the public’s reaction to all this? According to the unscientific results of a poll posted in this March 18 Opinion Northwest blog post, most responders agreed with the council’s vote. Vote again below to see the latest results.

The post also solicited feedback from readers. About 50 comments later, here’s a sampling of what people are saying:
I favor leveling. The ride-services should have to have their vehicles tested, insurance upped and drivers’ medical and driving histories examined. To get level, ride-sharing services should be able to be hailed and serve the airport. Then it would be truly level.
The caps don’t make it level. Lyft has software that can control the number of cars operating at one time. I don’t think uberX or the cab companies can.
— Jack Collins, Seattle
The City Council should be more concerned about the users of the service rather than creating a welfare system for the taxi industry. The reason people are willing to pay more for Uber is because of the deplorable condition of the Seattle taxi cab industry. The service is bad, the drivers are rude and many of the cabs saw better days in the last decade. If I want to pay a little more for a quality service like Uber, that should be my decision. If the council forces me back into a cab, then the city should accept liability for anything bad that might happen. My wife won’t use a Seattle cab after dark. She feels far safer and feels there is more accountability using Uber because the cars are dispatched and there is a record of use.
— Jim Kneeland, Shoreline
Not in the least. Why is the city involving itself in the evolution of business? Did they feel compelled to step in and rescue Borders when Mr. Bezos’ Kindle put it out of business? So why is this different?
— Charles Vanderburg, Seattle
Deregulate all taxis from a business standpoint. Let the market determine the number of cars needed. Level the playing field in terms of commercial insurance and consumer safety requirements so that all taxis and ride-services have the same requirements. Do all of this very quickly so that the consumer retains options. Uber’s level of service far exceeded what taxis currently offer. Protecting the taxi monopoly has resulted in poor service at a high cost. If necessary, the City Council should consider refunding medallion fees to existing taxi companies to justify quick action toward deregulation.
— Tom Craig, Seattle
It will bring competition and, as a result, better service and affordable charges.
— Prabhjot Singh, Tukwila
Very simple: They need to be regulated. They need to abide by the rules. This is America. No short cuts!
— Jaffar Said, Seattle
Lyft, uberX and Sidecar need to be treated exactly the same as a taxi company. They use their smartphones as a dispatch and meter, and provide the exact same service as a taxi. These companies should be treated exactly the same as Yellow, Farwest, and Stita. These companies have found a loophole and clearly taken advantage of the system without any solid regulation. They need the same insurance polices and their drivers need the same regulations that taxi drivers face. No exceptions. King County should sell these companies licenses and make more money.
Gurpreet Marok, Renton
By far the biggest expense cabbies face is the rent paid to medallion holders for the right to drive. Seattle should remove the corrupt medallion system, where medallion holders extort rents from taxi drivers, and put in place uniform regulations that subject all drivers to the same safety, insurance, and licensing requirements. Placing quotas on cab services is no different from placing a quota of the number of newspapers that may be printed.
 — Paul J. Ste. Marie, Renton
Reverse the vote. Without competition, cab drivers are downright rude for their services. I will avoid them at all cost.
— Kiet Truong, Seattle

Comments | Topics: lyft, ridesharing, Seattle City Council


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►