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Originally published Friday, May 16, 2014 at 9:33 PM

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King County exec steps into ride-services fray

King County Executive Dow Constantine proposes regulations for ride-service companies and drivers, but without caps on numbers of vehicles.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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King County Executive Dow Constantine on Friday proposed new regulations for ride-service companies and drivers that address safety and insurance but wouldn’t limit the number of vehicles on the road — an issue that has been contentious in Seattle.

Constantine said he supports the innovation brought to the for-hire transportation industry by companies such as Lyft, Uber and Sidecar. But he added, “It is reasonable to expect that drivers in these programs are properly insured and operating safe vehicles.”

If adopted, the legislation would apply to the unincorporated areas of the county as well as cities that contract with King County for taxi and for-hire licensing, including Auburn, Bellevue, Burien, Covington, Enumclaw, Federal Way, Issaquah, Kenmore, Kent, Kirkland, Maple Valley, Redmond, Renton, Sammamish, SeaTac and Shoreline.

Some of those cities might have to enact their own ordinances to extend the provisions to their jurisdictions, said Caroline Whalen, King County administrative officer, whose duties include the county records and licensing division. She said the Metropolitan King County Council will debate the proposal and could enact the new regulations by early fall.

Whalen said that in proposing rules for ride services, the county wanted to level the playing field with taxis and other for-hire vehicles, and also address concerns from the ride-service companies about restrictions on their businesses.

Ride-service companies are currently operating without county regulations.

The county proposal would regulate insurance, criminal background checks, training, vehicle inspections and licensing. It would lower the current $450 driver licensing fee to $290. And a streamlined training requirement could be met in one day rather than two.

Whalen said the proposed regulations set a lower mandatory grade of insurance that would still provide $300,000 in liability coverage, but would be more affordable for drivers. And they would allow taxis to be summoned with mobile-device applications.

“Anyone who gets into a car and pays for that service should be assured it’s operating safely and legally,” Whalen said.

Uber praised the proposed regulations as sensible and appeared to contrast them to rules adopted in April by the Seattle City Council, which the company suggested relied on “outdated, decades-old regulations.”

The company also hit back at the Teamsters union, which announced Thursday that ride-service drivers were forming an association to better represent their interests in the debate over city and county regulation.

“Uber’s top priority is safety, the Teamsters’ top priority is recruiting membership, filling their coffers and protecting taxi-license owners,” said Brooke Stegar, Seattle Uber general manager.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has set a June 2 deadline to reach an agreement with the ride-service companies over new regulations that include a cap of 150 cars on Seattle streets at one time for each company. The council’s ordinance was suspended when the companies qualified a referendum for the November ballot that would repeal the new city rules.

Lynn Thompson: or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes

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