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

Topic: taxis

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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

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

September 6, 2013 at 11:34 AM

Seattle City Council must change taxi, ridesharing regulations

No more studies. The Seattle City Council has enough proof to justify policy changes for taxi cabs and ridesharing programs. A new survey presented to the council Tuesday (and outlined in a news story by reporter Alexa Vaughn) confirms Seattle taxi drivers are in hot water. Many customers are complaining about bad attitudes and unreliable response…

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Comments | Topics: ridesharing, Seattle, taxis

August 14, 2013 at 7:42 AM

Seattle on shaky legal ground in limiting taxi licenses

Taxis protest the lack of regulation for services like Uber and Lyft in Seattle on Aug. 2, 2013. (Genevieve Alvarez / The Seattle Times)

Taxis protest the lack of regulation for services like Uber and Lyft in Seattle on Aug. 2, 2013. (Genevieve Alvarez / The Seattle Times)

The city of Seattle limits the number of taxi licenses to 850. That number has not kept up with demand as unlicensed competitors such as UberX, Lyft and Sidecar have crept into the market.

These new services, powered by smartphone apps, should be regulated by the city for safety, but I also argued that it’s time for the city to lift its cap on taxi licenses in a Tuesday column, “End the city’s taxi monopoly and let Uber roll.”

A Seattle City Council committee is studying demand for ride services in Seattle and could raise the total amount of licenses allowed, change the strange division between “taxi” and “for hire” licenses and require the new services to be regulated for safety.

If the city continues to limit the number of taxi licenses, it could risk potential litigation.

In April, a Milwaukee Circuit Court judge ruled its taxi monopoly was illegal and ordered the market opened. In Minneapolis, a U.S. District Court judge also ruled its taxi cap illegal in 2006. The Arlington, Va., nonprofit Institute for Justice was involved in both lawsuits.

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Comments | Topics: Seattle City Council, taxis, transportation