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April 10, 2014 at 6:23 AM

A ride-service fan’s doubts about uberX, Lyft and Sidecar petition

Within the last couple weeks, I’ve used taxicabs, Lyft and uberX. The drivers were all nice, the prices comparable, the cars clean. This consumer is convinced the increased competition in Seattle has helped to improve service quality. There’s room in Seattle for many transportation options.

So why are the ride-service companies taking advantage of their popularity and scaring people into thinking they’re going to be put out of business? The three have formed a coalition to circulate a petition to repeal the Seattle City Council’s new regulations, which include insurance requirements, driver training and a limit on each network to 150 drivers at any given time.

If the referendum passes, the new law would be suspended until voters have their say. In a March 28 press release, coalition spokesman Brad Harwood says, “The ordinance passed by the City Council would severely limit transportation options for Seattle residents and visitors alike by making it extremely difficult if not impossible for services like Lyft, Sidecar and uberX to continue serving the city.”

Screen shot of Craigslist ad for drivers posted by uberX on April 8.

Screen shot of Craigslist ad for drivers posted by uberX on April 8.

Again, I’m a fan of these services. But it’s hard to believe that they’re going anywhere when Lyft has been posting ads looking for drivers on Facebook. Sidecar posts ads on Craigslist. UberX, too. (See the photo to the left.)

The council’s cap does seem arbitrary and unfairly protects the taxi industry. But the other provisions passed by the council last month are important for consumer safety in this burgeoning market. Why rock the boat when the council has already told the companies they would be willing to revisit the limits? Seems to me Lyft, uberX and Sidecar should be sharing more of their data with the council and cooperating to develop commonsense regulations, not vilifying their entire effort to ensure safety.

Groups have a right to organize petitions and get measures on the ballot for voter approval. But be careful about this one. Know that if you sign it, it gets on the ballot and voters pass it, the ride-service companies will win big, but consumer safety provisions could be compromised. Luckily, there have been no serious accidents involving ride-service drivers in Seattle, but the death of a six-year-old girl in San Francisco revealed potential insurance coverage gaps and prompted Lyft and Uber to expand their coverage. (Read more about the change in a March 14 Seattle Times news report.) 

The city should regulate ride-service drivers to a certain extent and level the playing field for taxis, as the Seattle Times editorial board argued in a March 13 editorial.

“They spent all this time operating illegally. The least they can do is operate legally and let people know what they’re doing,” says Don Stark, a lobbyist for Yellow, Orange and FarWest taxi dispatch services.

Are the rules passed by the City Council unfair to the ride-service companies? To what extent? We really don’t know yet. Mayor Ed Murray signed the ordinance on March 19.

Instead of creating ill-will against the city council (which includes several members sympathetic to the ride-services’ cause) with a highly politicized referendum,  the companies should work with regulators. Focus on balancing consumer demand and rider safety.

Comments | Topics: lyft, ride-service, ridesharing

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