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Seattle May Embrace, Regulate Rideshare Companies

Amy Radil

The Seattle City Council is trying to determine how it should handle new rideshare companies that compete with taxis. Council members told a packed meeting Thursday they are leaning towards embracing — and regulating — them.

Rideshare companies are proliferating in Seattle, as evidenced by the number of pink mustached cars on the road. That’s the signature for one of the services, called Lyft. They’re different from taxis and for-hire vehicles in that customers summon and pay them through smartphone apps. And they’re completely unregulated.

What they’re doing is technically a misdemeanor. But Seattle City Councilmember Sally Clark has been hearing from a lot of people who love using them.

“I don’t think the genie’s going back in the bottle,” Clark said. “Even in cities where there have been cease and desist letters, I think that’s been really buying time to have a conversation about what the heck’s going on.”

The council’s Committee on Taxi, For-Hire and Limousine Regulations met to discuss a range of options for interim regulations, from trying to stop the rideshare services to allowing them in with limited regulatory oversight.

Dozens of for-hire and taxi drivers attended the meeting, making it clear the council has a difficult balancing act ahead.  “Genie was in a bottle until you guys issued these ‘for hire’ cars,” taxi driver Jagjit Singh told the council. “Now genie’s out. Genie breaking law.”

He said taxi drivers can’t compete with these new services because of their high costs and regulations. He wants the city to crack down on the competitors. Councilmember Bruce Harrell agreed; he said the direction favored by Clark and fellow committee member Mike O’Brien  is too lax on rideshares and does too little to help taxi drivers.  “I’d rather try to put the genie a little back in the bottle as we come up with this new regulatory scheme,” Harrell said.

But he’s outnumbered.

Clark and O’Brien said they’re prepared to support a regulatory scheme that includes rideshare services, as long as those drivers get the same training and license as taxi drivers. Council staff will bring a proposal back to the committee in about a month.

Clark said rideshares claim their drivers only work part time. She said the companies are asking for the city’s trust on that issue, and the true impact of the rideshare programs won’t be clear for awhile. But she also said the rideshare companies seem to be creating demand for a new way of getting around, not just taking existing business from taxis.

Year started with KUOW: 2005