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Opinion Northwest

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

Category: Polls
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.

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Comments | Topics: lyft, ridesharing, Seattle City Council

March 18, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Poll: Do you agree with Seattle City Council’s decision to limit Lyft, uberX and Sidecar?

No big surprises with the Seattle City Council’s unanimous decision on Monday to cap technology-based ride-services such as Lyft, uberX and Sidecar. The council passed a two-year pilot program to legalize and limit each network to 150 drivers at any given time, and to raise the number of taxi licenses by 200 over the next two years. (Read Seattle Times reporter Alexa Vaughn’s news side story.)

Taxi driver Benyam Hailu holds a sign as he waits for a meeting of the Seattle City Council to begin, Monday, March 17, 2014 in Seattle. The Council was voting on rules and regulations that have pitted supporters of ride-share and other non-traditional transportation companies against taxi and for-hire drivers and operators. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Taxi driver Benyam Hailu holds a sign as he waits for a meeting of the Seattle City Council to begin, Monday, March 17, 2014 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

As The Seattle Times editorial board argued in this March 14 editorial, the city should have focused less on caps — for both taxis and ride-services — and more on consumer safety and leveling the playing field for all drivers. Increased competition has improved customer service over the last year, and it would be a shame to see ride-services cut back services in a city where people are driving less and demanding more affordable transportation options.

The other takeaway? This likely becomes a political issue in the next city council election cycle. See Uber Seattle’s tweet after the vote, which was retweeted at least 100 times as of Monday evening.

Before Mayor Ed Murray signs Council Bill 118036, he should also consider convening a panel to review and revamp the city’s antiquated taxi regulations. In a timely statement released after the vote, Murray indicated he plans to get more involved:

“As Mayor, I will direct my staff and the Facilities and Administrative Services Department Director to engage stakeholders and experts outside of City government in further discussions. Based on these discussions, I then plan to submit to Council my own recommendations to both ensure customer safety and improve customer choice while leveling the playing field for all industry players.”

This entire process has put Seattle in the spotlight because its city council is the first in the nation to limit the growth of a wildly popular service. Hopefully, Lyft, uberX and Sidecar officials learned along the way that they must release data much sooner and develop better relations with the council. Several elected members showed a willingness to revisit the cap in the future, but not until the market has time to adjust and the networks agree to be more transparent about their insurance policies.

Below the poll and forum, look for a sampling of reactions from the council members.

Do you agree with the council’s decision? Vote in the poll below. 

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Comments | More in Discussion, Polls | Topics: lyft, ride-services, ridesharing

February 6, 2014 at 6:08 AM

Poll: Do you think drugstores should follow CVS’ decision to stop selling cigarettes?

There are no CVS chains in Washington right now, but the national drugstore giant’s decision Wednesday to stop selling tobacco in its 7,400 stores by October 2014 is a game-changing move that should force competitors to consider doing the same.

Here’s CVS Chief Executive Officer Larry Merlo’s message explaining why the company is letting go of an estimated $2 billion in tobacco sales.

Keep in mind the company can take this bold step because it is expanding its role and generating revenue as a health care provider.

According to this Associated Press story, Target is the only other big-name pharmacy in the U.S. to resist selling tobacco products.Will other major competitors such as Wal-Mart, Walgreens and Rite Aid do the same? They should.

Take this poll and share your opinion:

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Comments | More in Polls | Topics: cessation, cvs, smoking

January 3, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Poll: Which Washington state gun control initiative do you support?

Washingtonians have a history of confronting controversial issues head-on through ballot measures.

A protestor holds American flags during a demonstration in favor of gun regulation outside of the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits at the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 4, 2013 in Houston, Texas. More than 70,000 peope are expected to attend the NRA's 3-day annual meeting that features nearly 550 exhibitors, gun trade show and a political rally.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A protestor holds American flags during a demonstration in favor of gun regulation outside of the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits at the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 4, 2013 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Voters in recent years have affirmed same-sex marriage and legalized recreational marijuana. This past November, the city of SeaTac’s electorate raised the minimum wage for airport workers to the highest level in the nation.

On deck: Gun control. Not just one initiative. Two!

Expect the dueling measures to spark a passionate, attention-grabbing and expensive debate, which will begin during the legislative session and likely extend through the November elections. Here’s Seattle Times reporter Brian Rosenthal’s latest news story on the signature-gathering process. The secretary of state’s office reports both initiatives have more than enough signatures to qualify for a place on the November ballot.

Initiative 594 would require background checks for all sales. Initiative 591 would limit mandatory checks to sales by licensed dealers and prohibit government officials from removing guns from citizens without due process.

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Comments | Topics: elections, gun control, initiative 591

November 21, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Poll: Weighing the JPMorgan Chase bank settlement

In 2010, former Washington Mutual bank executives spoke at U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on high-risk loans. The bank was later bought by JPMorgan Chase which has just settled litigation brought by the federal government for $13 billion. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In 2010, former Washington Mutual bank executives spoke at a U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on high-risk loans. The bank was later bought by JPMorgan Chase, which has just settled litigation brought by the federal government for $13 billion. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

JPMorgan Chase has agreed to pay $13 billion, including $4 billion for consumer relief and $6 billion to investors who lost big during the bank’s risky mortgage securities schemes. This settlement with the U.S. government is larger than any other Wall Street settlement and is roughly equivalent to half the bank’s annual profit. JPMorgan also agreed to a statement of facts, in which the bank admitted to key failures in buying toxic mortgage securities from 2005 to 2008. This NPR report offers a breakdown of the settlement and who gets the money.

A number of institutions will receive money in the settlement. Investors in JPMorgan appeared positive about the settlement. Shares of the New York-based bank rose 41 cents, or 0.7%, to $56.15 on Tuesday, as major U.S. stock indexes edged lower. This Los Angeles Times story offers more investor details.

I’m glad JPMorgan gave up trying to argue that it should not be held culpable for problems that came from the banks it acquired, including investment bank Bear Stearns and thrift Washington Mutual. But this does not end the anger and emotion surrounding the bank. Critics of the settlement call it a sweetheart deal engineered by a Wall Street-friendly Obama administration. Defenders call it precedent-setting, comparing it to the $4.5 billion in fines and penalties paid by British Petroleum over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. A Seattle Times editorial welcomed the BP settlement.

The JPMorgan settlement could become a template the federal government would use to guide future action against other banks. If so, is the settlement letting JPMorgan off too lightly or is it in proportion to the bank’s transgressions? Take this poll.

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Comments | Topics: barack obama, economy, housing

October 31, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Poll: Time to strip the NFL of its nonprofit status?

Are we so blinded by our love of sports that we’re willing to be fleeced by the most profitable sports league in the world and its billionaire team owners?

The Seattle Seahawks defeat the Tennessee Titans 20-13 Sunday October 13, 2013 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle (BETTINA HANSEN/THE SEATTLE TIMES)

The Seattle Seahawks defeat the Tennessee Titans 20-13 Sunday October 13, 2013 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times)

I couldn’t make it past the first graph of this recent Atlantic magazine story, an excerpt from Gregg Easterbrook‘s book “The King of Sports,” without fuming.

In Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who styles himself as a budget-slashing conservative crusader, took $4 million from taxpayers’ pockets and handed the money to the Washington Redskins, for the team to upgrade a workout facility. Hoping to avoid scrutiny, McDonnell approved the gift while the state legislature was out of session. The Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1 billion. But even billionaires like to receive expensive gifts.

Throughout the report, Easterbrook provides an exhaustive look at how American taxpayers have financed “70 percent of the capital cost of  NFL stadiums,” in addition to many ongoing infrastructure and operating costs. Here’s a tidbit about the Seattle Seahawks:

CenturyLink Field, where the Seattle Seahawks play, opened in 2002, with Washington State taxpayers providing $390 million of the $560 million construction cost. The Seahawks, owned by Paul Allen, one of the richest people in the world, pay the state about $1 million annually in rent in return for most of the revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking, and broadcasting (all told, perhaps $200 million a year).

The Seahawks are a great team, but this is just plain wrong, especially when we’re struggling to fully fund public education and to sustain the cost of essential services such as the Metro transit system and health care.

Here’s the kicker: The National Football League is tax exempt. To the IRS, the NFL has been known as the Nonprofit Football League for decades. NBC News reports it gets away with this by only claiming tax immunity for the main office, which operated in 2011 with about $255 million worth of revenue. The NFL’s main function is to distribute billions generated from licensing and television deals to its 32 for-profit teams, each worth on average $1.2 billion according to this Forbes report. Still doesn’t pass the smell test. How many trade or charitable organizations pay their top official (in this case NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) nearly $30 million?

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Comments | Topics: congress, football, NFL

October 1, 2013 at 3:56 PM

Have you experienced the government shutdown?

The federal government shutdown could affect up to 50,000 federal employees in Washington state. National forests and monuments, including Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, closed Tuesday. And U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray shuttered their district offices statewide. Unless Congress strikes a deal, thousands of civilian workers considered nonessential to the federal courts and…

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Comments | More in Polls | Topics: government shutdown, maria cantwell, Mount Rainier

July 22, 2013 at 6:15 AM

Poll: Should school-zone camera ticket money be earmarked and kept separate from general funds?

Mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle City Council agree that all money raised from the $189 school-zone traffic cameras should be used for  road and pedestrian-safety projects near schools. But according to a Times story on Sunday, the question dividing the council and mayor is how to ensure the money is only used for school-related…

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Comments | Topics: children, Education, public safety

July 11, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Poll: Should Washington lawmakers fine themselves for working overtime?

Senate Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom wants to motivate lawmakers to get their work done on time or face fines. Sounds like a gimmick. A bad one that doesn’t reflect much pride in the final budget passed by lawmakers earlier this month.

Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, meets with student lobbyists from the University of Washington to discuss higher education. (KEN LAMBERT/THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, meets with student lobbyists from the University of Washington to discuss higher education. (KEN LAMBERT/THE SEATTLE TIMES)

The Washington Legislature certainly tested our patience when they failed to reach a budget deal by the end of the regular session. That they teetered on the edge of a government shutdown is unfortunate. But there’s a bottom line: The final bill lawmakers passed turned out to be better than the alternatives considered in earlier weeks. (Why? Read more analysis in this July 2 editorial commending lawmakers for finding the “political center” in the final bill.)

Here’s an excerpt from Seattle Times reporter Andrew Garber’s Wednesday news story:

Tom created a buzz after broaching the idea of a $250-a-day fine for each day lawmakers go past the time allotted in the regular session.

“We need a forcing mechanism, and right now, there really is not one,” Tom said Tuesday. “I think it’s crazy that it comes down to notices to state workers that we’re going to shut down state government as the only forcing mechanism that gets us out of town.”

House Appropriations Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, disagreed with Tom’s idea. “I just don’t think it works,” Hunter said.

Is Tom trying to apologize in some way for taking too long to adjourn sine die? They definitely took way too long to compromise, but I don’t buy the idea that lawmakers will ever penalize themselves for taking a few extra weeks to understand a complex state budget that affects millions of Washingtonians over two years.

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Comments | Topics: Rodney Tom, state budget, Washington State Legislature

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