Rideshare use picks up sharply in King County
The popularity and availability of Lyft, UberX and Sidecar is growing rapidly on the Eastside, where the Seattle City Council’s proposed regulations can’t touch the companies — not yet anyway.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Regulations could start tightening on rideshare companies in Seattle by the end of next month — but not in the rest of King County.
That’s where phone app-powered passenger pickup businesses like Lyft, UberX and Sidecar are spreading.
Despite the city of Seattle and King County calling their operations illegal and a potential insurance liability, their popularity in the metro area continues to soar.
Lyft announced Thursday that the coverage area for its pink-mustachioed cars has expanded from the densest Seattle neighborhoods to almost the entire Eastside. Its new coverage area stretches farther south to SeaTac and Renton, north to Shoreline and Bothell and as far east as Sammamish.
Sidecar and UberX have been serving those areas for months as suburban demand continues to grow for services that use geo-locating smartphone apps for dispatch and cash-free transactions.
“We see that as a natural progression,” said Lyft spokeswoman Erin Simpson. She said the progression was the same after Lyft started in San Francisco in 2012. Now the company covers Silicon Valley and East Bay cities such as Oakland and Berkeley. California has legalized such operations statewide.
Unlike the Seattle City Council — which for months has deliberated the legality of the companies it now refers to as transportation-network companies (TNCs) — King County so far is not attempting to alter existing taxi or for-hire policies. County spokesmen said King County staff members and the County Council are likely waiting to see what move the Seattle council makes first.
In the meantime, King County has not enforced any existing taxi or for-hire laws on Lyft, Sidecar or UberX drivers, said county spokesman Cameron Satterfield. Seattle hasn’t either.
Taxi and for-hire drivers have complained for more than a year that it’s unfair they should have to pay hundreds of dollars a year to be legally licensed, while drivers for TNCs don’t.
“These days, things move so quick it’s hard for laws and ordinances to keep up,” Satterfield said of businesses that use technology to informally share and sell things. “It’s a whole new world with these shared services ... and a lot of counties and cities across the country are trying to deal with it.”
Simpson said Lyft wants King County or, preferably, the whole state to eventually agree on one legal operating framework for TNCs. California did that last year, and now even cities like Los Angeles, which tried to shut down TNC operations, can’t.
The regulations Seattle has proposed so far are much more restrictive than California’s. The draft rules would limit the number of drivers for each TNC to 100 and limit drivers’ car usage to 16 hours a week — restrictions that Lyft, Sidecar and UberX said would essentially shut down their operations in the city. Each of the companies aims to have hundreds of drivers to increase the availability and response time for each ride request.
The City Council’s taxi committee will meet at 2 p.m. Thursday in the City Council Chambers to publicly deliberate the new regulations, perhaps for the last time. The committee is expected to make a decision by its Feb. 14 meeting, then deliver the new rules to the full council for a vote by the end of February.
Satterfield said that after Seattle decides, King County will likely take months to figure out what to do next.
“The city of Seattle is a little bit ahead of us because that’s where these companies started, but we obviously both have an interest in them,” he said. “It’s likely that the county solution is going to look a lot similar if not the same as Seattle’s.”
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.