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City panel goes different route with ride-service regulations
The Seattle City Council’s taxi committee voted Thursday to recommend limiting the number of drivers for Lyft, uberX and Sidecar, but what they approved looked quite different from what the committee had previously discussed.
Seattle Times staff reporter
What the terms mean
Taxi driver: Drives a licensed vehicle with an individual for-hire license. In Seattle, there are 688 taxis licensed to operate.
For-hire driver: Can drive taxis, flat-rate for-hire cars, uberX, Lyft and Sidecar. There are no caps on how many for-hire drivers can work in the city of Seattle or King County.
Transportation Network Company (TNC): The city of Seattle calls Lyft, uberX and Sidecar TNCs, not rideshares. According to Councilmember Sally Clark, none of the for-profit companies fits the legal description of a rideshare.
Rideshare: Think carpool. It’s when people with similar travel routes, destinations and schedules share a vehicle.
TNC driver permit: The City Council has proposed a new kind of driver permit for people who want to drive for Lyft, uberX and Sidecar without going through as much training as a traditional for-hire driver. Only 150 of these drivers would be able to work at a time for each TNC at any given point in the day.
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A majority of Seattle City Council members approved a cap on the number of drivers for Lyft, uberX and Sidecar at a standing-room-only taxi-committee meeting Thursday night. But the cap was quite different from what they’d discussed previously.
Of nine members of the full council who were present, five — Sally Clark, Tim Burgess, Tom Rasmussen, Sally Bagshaw and Jean Godden — voted in favor of a proposal by Clark to limit the number of drivers who could work for Lyft, uberX and Sidecar at any given point in the day.
If the proposal passes a full council vote next month, it would allow an unlimited number of drivers, but no more than 150 of them, using their personal cars, could work at any given time for each company. The measure would take effect a month after Mayor Ed Murray signs it.
Each prospective driver would have to apply for a Transportation Network Company (TNC) permit. In order to get it, drivers would have to take driver-safety training, but it would be less intensive than the for-hire training that taxi and flat-rate car drivers are required to take.
Under the earlier proposal, which did not pass, the taxi committee had recommended a cap of 300 TNC-permitted drivers who could contract with Lyft, uberX and Sidecar. All 300 of those drivers could choose which company they want to work for.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien amended that proposal Thursday to raise the cap on TNC permits to 400, but that didn’t pass either.
O’Brien, Nick Licata, Kshama Sawant and Bruce Harrell supported the amended proposal. They said giving TNC permits directly to drivers allows them to choose who they want to work for, and it keeps the market from being flooded, a situation that could prevent drivers from earning a living wage.
Speaking about the companies’ share of driver fares, O’Brien said: “If a company were to decide that instead of taking a 20 percent cut, they’re going to take a 30 percent cut, and a driver didn’t like it, they could not work for them but there would likely be plenty of others that would.”
Burgess, Bagshaw and Rasmussen favored no cap at all. But when it became clear a majority of members supported some kind of cap, all three supported Clark’s proposal instead.
Lyft, uberX and Sidecar had all said before the meeting that if the previously discussed caps on TNC-permit drivers were approved, their operations in Seattle would end as soon as they go into effect. When asked Thursday night whether the proposal that passed would still kill operations, both Lyft and uberX said it would. Sidecar did not confirm that it would end operations.
“This ordinance will eliminate Lyft in Seattle,” said spokeswoman Erin Simpson. “Local residents who drive for Lyft on their way to work, while they are running errands, or on the weekends to make ends meet will no longer be able to act as drivers, especially when passengers who have chosen to live car-free in Seattle need them most.”
Uber said it hoped the City Council would change the proposal before it takes its final vote on the matter next month, likely on March 10.
“The committee has sent a strong message that they support the status quo over opportunity, transportation choices and safety,“ said Brooke Steger, Seattle general manager of Uber. “We hope when these regulations come to the full council that innovation and safety win the day.”
Uber launched an aggressive campaign to sway City Councilmembers’ votes this week. Tweets from Macklemore, Golden Tate and Sidney Rice endorsed the company, and an ad taken out in The Stranger attacked Clark, O’Brien and Harrell, the three council members who initially proposed limiting the number of drivers.
Thursday, Uber robo-called people who’d used Uber in Seattle with a message that gave them the option of calling a council member or the mayor.
“It’s not a tactic we’ve ever used before,” said Steger. “We realize making a call is intrusive, but at the same time we need people to understand this is a serious matter.”
Taxi and for-hire drivers were upset by Thursday’s vote as well.
“It’s just like they set no caps — it just makes things more convoluted,” said Yohannes Sium, a lawyer for the Seattle/King County Taxi Owners Alliance.
As a concession to taxi drivers, the full council, acting as the taxi committee, unanimously agreed to offer new taxi vehicle licenses for the first time in at least 23 years. The city will offer 100 new taxi licenses both this year and next year if approved again during a regular City Council meeting next month.
Sium said he had to admire the pressure that TNCs, especially Uber, have exerted on the council.
“They played this masterfully,” said Sium. “People love Uber because they love things that are new and nifty. But give it time, and people will think differently.”
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org.