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Opinion Northwest

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

Topic: lyft

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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.

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Comments | Topics: lyft, ride-service, ridesharing

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

March 7, 2014 at 6:04 AM

UberX, Lyft and Sidecar finally reveal driver numbers in Seattle

One week after a Seattle City Council subcommittee‘s controversial and preliminary decision to limit ridesharing services to 150 drivers per network at any given time, Lyft, uberX and Sidecar have each come forward to reveal the number of drivers on their respective platforms.

Supporters of uberX wave cards as a person speaks in favor of their continued existence. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)

Supporters of uberX wave cards as a person speaks in favor of their continued existence. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)

During a Feb. 27 hearing, council members complained loudly that these companies were refusing to release that information. The city’s top officials have struggled for months to reach an agreement on how to legalize ridesharing, which has disrupted Seattle’s highly regulated taxi industry.

Now armed with a little more information, council members should  revisit the cap number they proposed and at least raise the limit on the number of drivers from each company who can work at the same time.

A March 10 vote by the full council has been postponed until March 17.

On Friday afternoon, uberX sent out a press release revealing it “has 900 active drivers on its system. This number does not include drivers who have left the system or those awaiting background checks to join the system. That number also does not include UberBlack or UberSUV drivers.”

The service also said more than 300 drivers are active at any given time and continues to grow with demand. So if the city’s proposed legislation is passed, hundreds of drivers using their personal cars will lose the ability they currently enjoy to earn income through uberX.

Uber Seattle General Manager Brooke Steger’s statement:

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Comments | Topics: lyft, regulations, ridesharing

February 25, 2014 at 11:56 AM

Poll: Should Seattle City Council impose cap on rideshare services Lyft, uberX and Sidecar?

In case you missed it, Monday’s editorial in The Seattle Times opinion section argues that a cap on ride-sharing services in Seattle does not improve consumer safety and kills an emerging business model. The board also supports lifting arbitrary caps on taxi, for-hire and ride-sharing vehicles.

Let the market determine how many vehicles should be on the road. Don’t limit growth. Focus on consumer safety.

Discussions on insurance gaps must continue in light of accidents involving ride-share drivers in other markets. Lyft has started a committee to find some clarity. Seattle leaders should join that effort.

Ride-sharing quickly gained a following because it keeps more cars off the road and gives drivers a chance to make a living with an asset they already own. Like the taxi industry, many drivers for these new services are immigrants. The council should beware of picking winners and losers.

Agree with this view or not, the editorial board would like to hear from you.

Vote in the poll below.

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Comments | Topics: lyft, rideshare, Seattle

February 14, 2014 at 7:23 AM

Seattle City Council postpones tough vote on UberX, Lyft and Sidecar

On Friday morning, the Seattle City Council’s Committee on Taxi, For-Hire and Limousine Regulations will meet (again) to discuss what to do with app-based transportation companies such as Lyft, Sidecar and UberX. The three-member panel had planned to vote on a draft proposal that would have capped the number of ridesharing vehicles that can operate citywide.

That’s good. It means the council can avert the risk of passing a bad policy and punishing innovation.

Probably helps that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray weighed in throughout the week to express his concerns about the pending legislation. He tweeted this on Thursday:

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Comments | Topics: lyft, ridesharing, Seattle City Council

December 19, 2013 at 8:00 AM

Reader responses to Seattle ridesharing proposal

Thanks to our readers for your thoughtful and interesting comments in response to the Seattle City Council’s draft plan to regulate app-powered ridesharing services in Seattle, such as uberX, Lyft and Sidecar.

A member of the public speaks before the Seattle City Council's Committee on Taxi, For-hire and Limousine Regulatiion on Dec. 13, 2013 at City Hall Council Chambers. (Photo by Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

A member of the public speaks before the Seattle City Council’s Committee on Taxi, For-hire and Limousine Regulations on Dec. 13, 2013 at City Hall. (Photo by Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

In this Monday Opinion Northwest post, I argued that the city’s proposed efforts to regulate these popular new services using old-school standards punish innovation and do not increase consumer safety or choice. The council is considering whether to limit each of these ridesharing networks to 100 vehicles and many drivers to 16 hours per week. A vote is expected sometime early next year, so now is the time for a robust public discussion.

Here’s what some of you have to say about whether and how ridesharing should be regulated:

Absolutely. In an effort to live according to our environmental and urbanist values, my wife and I got rid of our car a year ago. We walk, ride our bikes, take the bus and use a number of ridesharing services to get around town. We rarely use traditional taxis because they are unreliable, especially when you need them most (i.e. rainy weather) and the service is usually not very good. Just try paying with a credit card and the driver has to run your card through an old-school carbon-copy machine. It’s like returning to last century. In contrast, the rideshare services have much better service (just ask the drivers how they like their jobs), are more convenient and are available when you need them most because of pricing that responds to demand.

By stifling these innovations, it becomes harder for people to become less dependent on cars, which contributes to the ongoing cycle of ever-increasing traffic congestion. Seattle thinks of itself as a city that embraces innovation and forward thinking. However, on this issue, our City Council is way behind.

— Gabriel Grant, Seattle

No. All this does is hurt the taxi and for-hire drivers who have worked hard to play by the rules. The stated demand is simply for a cheaper service. These new companies aren’t modeled on providing a cheaper service on a level playing field, they simply pick off the taxis’ best fares and do so without licensing fees, safety or insurance standards. This isn’t a new market segment against the established taxis, it’s the black market versus the law-abiding market.

Level the playing field. The current proposal is TOO lenient on these illegal black market rideshare companies.

— Pat Flanagan, Seattle

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Comments | More in Discussion | Topics: lyft, rideshare, Seattle

December 16, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Seattle City Council’s ridesharing proposal kills innovation

On Friday, Seattle witnessed an example of how disruptive business models can thrive and gain popularity with consumers, but they can’t escape forever from the weight of existing regulatory structures.

Sylvester Bush, 50, of Renton is one of the first drivers for a ride-sharing app called Lyft. (GREG GILBERT/THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Sylvester Bush, 50, of Renton is one of the first drivers for a ride-sharing app called Lyft. (GREG GILBERT/THE SEATTLE TIMES)

The Seattle City Council’s latest draft rules to legalize and regulate ridesharing companies such as Lyft, Uber and Sidecar, leave room for improvement before a final vote in early 2014. City leaders say their intention is to not punish or stifle innovation, but that’s exactly what their proposal would do.

We need to keep consumers safe through common-sense regulations, but we also need to let the market determine how many taxi, for-hire and rideshare services are really necessary. Perhaps the city of Seattle can go back to the drawing board and adopt more aspects of the California model, which ridesharing companies like Lyft contend are fair and will not put them out of business.

Here’s a link to Seattle Channel’s video of the meeting and the city clerk’s summary of the draft legislation. Some highlights:

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Comments | Topics: city council, lyft, ridesharing

December 13, 2013 at 6:00 AM

The rise — and early challenges— of Seattle’s shared economy

Seattle’s blossoming “shared economy” is disrupting the way many of us live, how we get around town and the places we choose to vacation. Turns out the upside of the recent economic downturn is a new willingness among more people to share their personal assets to make extra money, work flexible hours and interact with total strangers.

The growth of this movement is powered by a new generation interested in meaningful connections and sustainable living in a world with limited resources.

Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin moderates a panel Dec. 11, 2013 on the state of Seattle's shared economy at Impact Hub Seattle. From left to right: Conlin, Natalie Foster of Peers, John Zimmer of Lyft, Joe Mele of StowThat, Holly Houser of Puget Sound Bikeshare, Kristina Bindi of Car2Go, Lindsey Engh of Impact Hubs Seattle (Photo by Thanh Tan/The Seattle Times)

Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin moderates a panel Dec. 11, 2013 on the state of Seattle’s shared economy at Impact Hub Seattle. From left to right: Conlin, Natalie Foster of Peers, John Zimmer of Lyft, Joe Mele of StowThat, Holly Houser of Puget Sound Bikeshare, Kristina Bindi of Car2Go, Lindsey Engh of Impact Hubs Seattle (Photo by Thanh Tan/The Seattle Times)

On Wednesday, a forum at Impact Hub Seattle brought together folks at the vanguard of the sharing economy, including John Zimmer of the ridesharing service Lyft, Holly Houser of the forthcoming Puget Sound Bikeshare, Lindsey Engh of co-working space Impact Hub Seattle, Joe Mele of StowThat (a storage rental company) and Kristina Bindi of Car2Go.

Hearing their stories got me thinking about some of my own recent interactions with what The Economist refers to as the peer-to-peer rental economy.

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Comments | Topics: bikes, lyft, ridesharing

June 20, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Chat rewind: Should ride-sharing services be regulated in Seattle?

We held a lively discussion Thursday afternoon on the issue of regulating ride-sharing services in Seattle like UBERx, Lyft and Sidecar. Read our Thursday editorial. According to this Seattle Times news story by reporter Alexa Vaughn, these companies are filling a niche but operating illegally. The city’s taxi operators want the City of Seattle to…

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Comments | More in Live chats | Topics: lyft, regulations, ride sharing

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