Mayor rides down the middle with ride-service accord
Ride-service providers Lyft, Sidecar and uberX won’t be limited to 150 drivers on the street at a time under proposed regulations negotiated by the companies and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. The taxi industry will gain new flexibility to compete against the new services.
Seattle Times staff reporter
App-based ride services such as uberX, Lyft and Sidecar could put unlimited drivers on the road at a time under a deal Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced Monday.
The city also would add 200 taxi licenses under the plan and loosen other industry restrictions to help cab drivers compete.
Murray hailed his proposal as a victory for popular technology and for an aging taxi industry burdened with too many rules.
“We have deregulated a highly regulated monopoly,” Murray said at a news conference, flanked by representatives of Lyft, uberX wheelchair-accessible taxis, and for-hire companies.
Murray’s proposal includes wins and losses for each type of ride service.
After showing plenty of resistance, services such as uberX and Lyft will have to increase their insurance and training standards, just as legislation passed this month in Colorado requires.
Rides from all services would be subject to a 10-cent surcharge that would help fund wheelchair-accessible taxis, which are more expensive to operate.
The city’s number of taxi licenses would still be limited, but 200 more would be added over the next four years. The city now has 688 taxi licenses and hasn’t added any since at least 1990.
Under Murray’s proposal, taxi licenses could become taxi medallions, which would officially make the licenses financial property for whoever owns one.
For-hire companies such as Eastside for Hire and CNG for Hire will for the first time be able to pick up people who flag them on the street. Taxis still would be the only service allowed to pick up riders from hotel taxi stands.
But Murray’s deal — which emerged from a grueling 55-day negotiation among representatives from Murray’s office and the taxi, for-hire and app-based ride-service industries — is still far from becoming law.
The Seattle City Council first would have to repeal regulations it approved in March limiting app-based services to each having 150 drivers on the road at a time. There currently are at least 2,000 Lyft and Uber drivers combined.
The ride-service industry responded to the council’s move with a referendum effort — heavily funded by Uber, Lyft and Sidecar — that submitted enough signatures in April to block the City Council’s regulations from going into effect.
Murray said Monday he hopes the council repeals the current rules and approves the new agreement so that voters don’t have to become involved in the fall.
He was uncertain whether there would be enough council support to approve his proposal. City Council members have spent more than a year deliberating regulations for the quickly evolving ride-service market.
“I know they will drill down on this, so I don’t take [the deal] as a given,” Murray said.
Councilmember Sally Clark said Monday she’s interested to see the particulars of Murray’s proposal once it’s been drafted.
Along with Councilmembers Bruce Harrell, Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata, Kshama Sawant and Jean Godden, Clark supported some form of cap on the number of drivers for services such as Lyft, uberX and Sidecar.
Clark said one of her main reasons was the companies’ lack of transparency as the City Council attempted negotiating regulations with them.
“The caps have been part of the conversation because it’s been unclear up to this point whether they are operating with proper insurance and adequate training,” Clark said. “We’ll go back to what we started with: caring about consumer safety and transparency that ensures some accountability.”
Several taxi advocates have filed a suit against the city, claiming that the referendum aimed at the fall ballot is not legitimate. Because regulation of the taxi industry is delegated to Seattle by the state, the suit argues that a city-based referendum cannot repeal the City Council’s regulations.
Unless the referendum fails or the City Council repeals its approved regulations, services such as Lyft, uberX and Sidecar are technically illegal in Seattle.
But Murray said he was satisfied enough with negotiations to take back a threat to issue cease-and-desist orders to the services.
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.