Caps on rideshares, taxis, and for hires? There’s a better way.

In case you didn’t catch it in The Stranger, this is my argument for why we should lift caps on rideshares. Thanks for taking part in the conversation. — Sally

A year’s worth of meetings about the future of transportation reached a crescendo this past Friday morning in Seattle City Council chambers. In a room packed with drivers and supporters, council members discussed how the city will regulate taxis, “for fire” vehicles, and rideshare services going forward. We are calling these rideshares Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), which include UberX and Lyft. We reached preliminary agreement on a number of issues. We also have one outstanding area where the debate goes on.

Here are four important matters of regulation upon which we all agree:

Insurance: All drivers of commercial vehicles irrespective of mode must have adequate commercial-level insurance from the moment the driver logs onto the system.

Training: All drivers should take an exam and pass the same updated training focusing on relevant and current safety and consumer protection elements.

Drivers and Cars: All drivers must pass a rigorous background check, and all cars must pass an appropriate safety check by the city or a third party.  

Hailing Rights: Give “for hires” hailing rights. This means “for hire” drivers will be able to legally pick you up when you signal them from the sidewalk. (Many For Hire drivers will pick up passengers on the street now anyway, but risk fines and other penalties for doing so. The change will put taxis and for hires on more equitable footing).

We council members have one major area of disagreement: CAPS. Capping the number of rideshare drivers and vehicles ignores our growing transportation needs.

Caps impose inappropriate limits to the growing rideshare industry, and unfairly reduce job opportunities for current and interested new drivers. Caps will slow the growth of burgeoning rideshare opportunities and frustrate those of us who want to get around our city without a car.

Caps compromise our ability to experiment within the marketplace to see how great the demand is for transportation alternatives. Data shows that a significant percentage of Seattle residents would love to live car free, if fast response time for rides were consistently available. Let’s see how fast we can make it.

Rather than mandating artificial limits, Seattle should take full advantage of all available technology to respond to consumers’ transportation needs. Our city is known for innovation. We are the vanguard of technology that works for people.

We are also a city that desperately needs many transportation options. That’s precisely why we must promote the growing rideshare industry, not stifle it.

UberX and Lyft are loath to tell us how many total drivers are in their systems. My estimate is roughly 1,200 drivers are signed up with UberX, and Lyft drivers tell me there are about 500 of them with Lyft. The cap as proposed would eliminate all but 300 of those drivers and their cars. Ridiculous. That’s a policy that takes us backward.

UberX reports that 95 percent of their drivers are from East Africa, India, and Pakistan, and Lyft proudly states 25 percent of its drivers in Seattle are women. These numbers are encouraging. I want to see more jobs, more drivers, more WOMEN drivers for that matter, faster response rates and higher standards across the board.

Caps on the number of taxis are a legacy of a mid-20th century system. That system may have worked for many last decade but it doesn’t address our needs now. New technologies and innovative ideas will help reduce congestion in all our neighborhoods and improve the ride experience for consumers if we will just let the technology work.

From a social justice standpoint, opening the door for more drivers—not reducing their number—helps everyone involved. Refugees and immigrants will continue to drive and support their families in taxis, for hires as well as TNC’s.

Drivers who have wanted to lease or buy their own taxis could be able to do so now. Rather than paying someone else for the privilege, they will be able to drive for themselves. Similarly, women, students, and part time drivers who choose to make money while providing the rest of us with rides will have increased opportunities to do so.

More rides, more riders. Fewer cars on the road. Less congestion. Less angst.

The cap as written would be temporary for two years. Why wait? I recommend that we get moving. Phase it in if we must, but let’s go. Yes, the city should regulate training, safety, insurance requirements and provide a platform to assure transparent fares. From that point on, I recommend we get out of the way.

Thoughts on Taxis, Flat-Rate For-Hires and App-Based Car Services

Seattle Channel screen shot of committee this morningThe intensity of the debate about regulations for taxis, flat-rate for-hire vehicles and app-based services like UberX and Lyft has been rivalled only by its complexity. With a meeting this morning on this issue, and a final vote coming soon, I wanted to share my position in more detail.

Let’s start with the basic question that many have asked: why regulate this industry at all? Why not just let the free market take control?

Through regulation, the taxi industry provides transportation options to users who may not be well served by the free market. This population includes those in wheelchairs, individuals without smartphones or credit cards, or fixed-income folks who want to take a short trip, like a quick trip to the neighborhood grocery store. It makes sense to provide mobility options for these groups—many of whom are from traditionally marginalized populations—through the city government’s regulatory authority. And, in order to service these passengers, the City has an obligation to ensure that the taxi industry is economically viable.

One of the ways we ensure a quality level of service to all taxi customers is to vigorously protect the taxis’ right to the “walk-up” market, which includes street hails and taxi stands. The walk-up market accounts for approximately two-thirds of taxi revenues. While taxis may face competition in the dispatch market from app-based Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), such as Uber, I believe they will be able to weather this competition because their financial foundation is in the protected walk-up market. In fact, local taxi industry gross revenue has increased the past couple years despite the burgeoning TNC presence. I’m also confident taxis can use their entrepreneurial spirit to adapt to the latest technologies and further protect their financial base.

We’ve learned from history that it makes sense to regulate and cap supply in the “walk-up” market.

At the same time, we know we face a supply problem in the dispatch market as there are data and anecdotes about long waits for taxis, or taxis that never arrive. The walk-up market needs caps on supply, the dispatch market needs more supply. This distinction makes a strong case for regulating the two differently.

Moreover, the TNCs have quickly changed what’s possible in the dispatch market and have done so with much higher customer satisfaction rates, according to a City-sponsored survey.

Make no mistake, the TNCs have done so to-date by ignoring and violating City laws. This sets a dangerous precedent and is a lesson for the executive branch of City government to address these issues as soon as they emerge. The story reported in the Seattle Times about one group being discouraged to use an app simply because they asked permission—when subsequently others are left to operate at will—is disturbing.

That being said, the question before the Council today is what to do now. What is the appropriate policy approach for the City as regulators of this industry? Owners and drivers of myriad backgrounds now depend on income from their taxis, their flat-rate for-hire vehicles, their TNC vehicles or some combination of the three.

Given the market dynamics discussed above, I favor removing limits on vehicles and drivers in the dispatch market for the two-year pilot program being proposed. If the majority of my colleagues favor a cap, I could support Councilmember Clark’s amendment to raise the current limit of 300 to 600 private vehicles available for TNCs.

This does not mean we deregulate. We require sufficient vehicle inspections and driver licensing to ensure customer safety. TNC companies must file their rate structure with the City and provide insurance to drivers whenever they are logged into their system cruising for passengers. This is not an insignificant requirement.

The Council acted this morning to eliminate the proposed 16-hour limitation on TNC drivers by choosing not to segment drivers between part-time and full-time licenses. No matter how much time they spend on the road, we will have the same standards for safety and driver quality. All for-hire drivers will be treated the same: same licensing, same training, same insurance requirements.

I understand the City’s current licensing standards, which include a two-day course, may prove too burdensome for some drivers. The City will look for ways to streamline this process moving forward, but when you’re making a living behind the wheel, safety must come first. All drivers must get a for-hire driver’s license; those who want to drive their own vehicle for a TNC would have an extra vehicle endorsement on this license.

For current taxi drivers, we should increase the number of licensed taxicabs that can operate in Seattle. This will give an opportunity for those drivers who have paid to lease taxis from others to finally be their own boss.

There is also the issue of the nearly 200 flat-rate, for-hire vehicle licenses. These vehicles and their drivers live in limbo between taxis and the TNCs, not fully one or the other.  As we continue to work on the broader regulatory structure for this realm, we should look at phasing this category of license out in such a way that protects those who have already invested their livelihoods in these licenses.

Finally, I proposed an amendment this morning that provides for more specificity about what we will be measuring in this pilot period. We should be clear at the front end what data we need to craft a transportation system for the long-term.

At the end of the day, I do not believe this is a zero-sum game. The more transportation services like these we make available, the more people able and willing to live without their own car, and the more business for everyone in this market. That’s good for affordability, for the environment, and for reducing congestion in our neighborhoods.

Seahawks Victory Parade: Expect Big Crowds and another Seismic Event

Tomorrow’s parade is almost here and we want the 12′s to honor the Seahawks loudly and safely. The event starts at 11 am on Wednesday, February 5, and we expect the 12′s to arrive en mass and early to start lining up. Bring your awesome Seahawks beast mode spirit and your patience as downtown could see unprecedented crowds.

The victory parade will include Seahawks players, Head Coach Pete Carroll, coaching staff, Seahawks Executives, Sea Gals, Blitz, the Blue Thunder drum line and the Lombardi trophy. Senator Maria Cantwell, Governor Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray will also join the parade.

Take care of yourself. Tomorrow’s weather will be below freezing and we encourage the 12s to dress for the weather and protect themselves from the elements. Whether you’re watching the parade or traveling to and from work, the influx of people in downtown Seattle could mean delays for everyone in the area.

Take care of each other. Please be respectful of each other and private property during the parade. Law enforcement is working hard to keep the streets safe, but if you see something, please say something to an officer around the route. We want this to be a fun, joyous celebration honoring the team and the 12s. 

Prepare alternative travel plans. Fans and downtown commuters alike need to plan ahead and pack their patience along with their Seahawks gear. Regional transit agencies are working together to provide service to and from the area. Please plan a few options for traveling home. 

Travel safely. We encourage all fans to carpool or utilize public transportation. Drivers will want to look at options for parking at the edges of the downtown area. Again, please pack your patience with your Seahawks gear.

Use the following links to plan a fun and safe Seahawks celebration:

Plan your day carefully and lets all take care of each other tomorrow.