Today was Mayor Ed Murray’s self-imposed deadline to negotiate a regulatory compromise between the city of Seattle and companies providing illegal ride-services uberX, Lyft, and Sidecar.
But mayor’s spokesman Jeff Reading says Murray is going to spend another week discussing city regulations that were initially set to go into effect in mid-April. According to Reading, both sides are close to making a deal after more than 45 days of the mayor threatening to issue cease-and-desist orders on the services if they can’t agree on regulations.
The regulations would establish insurance, training and licensing standards for so-called ridesharing services that use smart-phone apps to dispatch drivers using personal vehicles to pick up passengers. The most contentious part of the Seattle City Council’s regulation is a rule that would limit each service — legally referred to as a transportation network company (TNC) — to having 150 drivers on the road at a time.
Both the companies and hundreds of smart-phone savvy fans of the services have railed against the City Council’s unanimous decision in March to limit TNC driver numbers.
Right now, uberX, Uber’s cheaper ride service option, Lyft and Sidecar are operating in Seattle without any public regulation — something the heavily regulated taxi industry says is both a huge competitive advantage and public liability.
The companies also have collectively put at least 2,000 new ride-service vehicles on the road since their popularity took off last year, while the number of city taxis is still set at 688. Despite decades of for-hire drivers clamoring to acquire their own taxi vehicle licenses, the city hasn’t issued a new taxi license since at least 1990.
Before City Council regulations passed in March could go into effect earlier this spring, a coalition heavily funded by Uber, Lyft and Sidecar threatened to immediately block implementation of new rules through a referendum that would land on voters’ ballots later this year. In an effort to see several safety regulations implemented as soon as possible, Murray said he would enter a 45-day negotiation period with the services and then issue cease-and-desist orders if both sides couldn’t find a compromise.
Taxi advocates are prepared to sue the city if the City Council’s regulations aren’t implemented soon, according to taxi lobbyist Chris Van Dyk. Van Dyk said today that the suit would argue that the referendum is not valid because regulation of for-hire vehicles is a power delegated from the state and thus wouldn’t technically qualify for Seattle ballots.
Van Dyk says that if the referendum is not valid, there is no reason the city shouldn’t be enforcing current law now.
“We do not understand why our current mayor does not see any value in standing up to bullies … especially when those on the bitter receiving end are just taxicab operators, and not glitzy software gurus,” Van Dyk said. “I could be wrong, but the approach of the mayor’s office seems to be give Uber whatever they want because we are afraid of them.”
Meanwhile, King County officials will be entering the regulatory fray soon. County Executive Dow Constantine has proposed safety and training standards for uberX, Lyft and Sidecar but without any limits placed on driver numbers.