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

Topic: transportation

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

March 17, 2014 at 6:28 AM

Washington transportation committee co-chairs, allies turn against each other

An experiment in bipartisanship that began with so much promise a year ago totally crumbled in the final hours of this year’s legislative session.

State Sens. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chair the Transportation Committee (2013 Instagram photo by Thanh Tan)

State Sens. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chair the Transportation Committee (2013 Instagram photo by Thanh Tan)

Let’s turn the clock back to March 27, 2013. On that day, I wrote a column, “State Senate Transportation co-chairs break new ground as political foes — and allies.” I’d gone down to Olympia to learn more about one of the rare political partnerships that emerged from the formation of the Majority Coalition Caucus. The buzz in the capitol at that time was that state Sens. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, were showing it was possible for a Republican and a Democrat to co-chair a committee and get things done.

Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Though other Democrats rejected the coalition’s offers to lead committees, Eide surprised her colleagues by accepting the co-chairmanship with King.

“I trust him explicitly,” she said, citing their experience together crafting budgets and serving on committees. 

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0 Comments | Topics: curtis king, legislature, tracey eide

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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0 Comments | Topics: lyft, regulations, ridesharing

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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0 Comments | Topics: lyft, ridesharing, Seattle City Council

January 10, 2014 at 6:30 AM

Gov. Chris Christie and the Highway 520 Bridge?

How about that wacky story out of New Jersey? Republican Gov. Chris Christie fired one of his senior staffers who apparently initiated some highway mischief that resulted in four days of traffic jams. All to spite a mayor who did not endorse Christie.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
(AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Other Christie appointees have resigned, and the story is still being parsed out. Can political retribution be this blatant and nasty? The aides plotted via emails and text messages with an ease and candor that suggests no one would ever find out or even ask.

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0 Comments | Topics: highway 520, transportation

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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0 Comments | Topics: city council, lyft, ridesharing

December 2, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Poll: How should King County fund Metro public transit?

King County officials are weaving their way through some gnarly political traffic.

Should they cut Metro transit routes despite growing ridership? Or convince voters to raise taxes and car tab fees? If the Legislature doesn’t pass a transportation package that lets them do this, will they have to resort to an old law that allows them to go it alone, but raise less revenue?

Photo by Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times

Photo by Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times

Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom outlines the region’s pending bus funding crisis in this news side story. Here’s one of the big reasons folks are so wary of inching toward 10 percent sales tax per $100 spent by consumers:

According to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), the poorest fifth of Washington state households pay 17 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the richest fifth pay less than 7 percent. Those are statewide averages, so the disparity grows in urban Puget Sound, where transit sales taxes are higher.

“(In) a state that is already clearly the most regressive in the nation, amazingly you’d have localities where it is more regressive,” said Matt Gardner, ITEP executive director.

“In fairness, there aren’t a lot of other choices available to lawmakers in Washington,” said Gardner.

Lawmakers appear no closer to a transportation deal, so it’s understandable why officials are antsy to get something before voters in 2014. Cuts are slated to begin next summer. By the time the next legislative session begins in January, the political waters may be too charged for lawmakers to vote on increasing taxes and fees. And even if the state legislature does pass a transportation package that includes local options for counties, a possible referendum may delay implementation of the law till after the November 2014 elections — a less-than-ideal scenario for transit planners.

So let’s get a sense of what readers think about the county’s Plan A and Plan B. Click below the jump to vote in our poll. As first reported in Lindblom’s story, here is The Seattle Times’ description of those two options:

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0 Comments | Topics: king county, legislature, metro

November 13, 2013 at 12:15 PM

Senate Majority Coalition’s $12.3 billion transportation package lands with a thud in Seattle

The Republican-dominated state Senate Majority Coalition, which balked at passing a huge transportation funding package earlier this year, is now floating a $12.3 billion transportation package, with an expectation that Gov. Jay Inslee may call another special Legislative session next week.

That alone is big news, because the deal includes a 11.5 cent gas tax increase theoretically endorsed by a fiscally conservative caucus. The package is heavy on maintenance, but would also pay for 51 projects, with billion-dollar chunks going to completion of the State Route 520 floating bridge ($1.3 billion), widening of Interstate 405 from Lynnwood to Renton ($1.25 billion) and the so-called Puget Sound Gateway expansion of State Route 509-167  ($1.69 billion). Here’s the draft project list and balance sheet. It also gives King and Snohomish counties authority to fund transit services by putting local-option taxes on the ballot.

The unfinished State Route 520 floating bridge / ALAN BERNER / SEATTLE TIMES

The unfinished State Route 520 floating bridge / ALAN BERNER / SEATTLE TIMES

Senate and House leaders are negotiating, but Senate Transportation Committee Co-chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, and House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said they agree on a broad outline, and on many of the projects. Clibborn’s version, passed by the House in June, is here.

Inslee spokesman David Postman said the governor could call a special session Nov. 21 and 22, when lawmakers are in Olympia to pick committee chairs for the 2014 session, but would only do so if there’s enough votes to pass the package. A clearer path toward a special session may emerge Friday, when caucuses meet in Olympia.

What’s odd about the MCC proposal is the muted response by King County Democrats. They hammered the coalition for failing to act last June, largely because the package would have given King County “local option” taxes to stave off devastating cuts (including cancelling 74 routes).

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0 Comments | Topics: senate majority coalition, transportation, Washington Legislature

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