Seattle readies new ridesharing regulations

From tool libraries to 12th Ave cohousing, CHS has been pretty much unabashed cheerleaders of the sharing economy. The philosophy fits so well into what a growing neighborhood in an urban core needs as residents wrestle with issues of affordability and simple things like elbow room. We’ve also noted the growing fleet of car services plying the neighborhood’s streets. New things like Car2Go, Lyft and old-timer Zipcar fit in here nicely, thank you very much.

While the City Council’s desire to further regulate the services isn’t quite as dire a situation as the companies might have you believe, it would mean crimping off some of the most interesting aspects of the new ways to get around a city. Here is what the Seattle tech-loving Geekwire has to say about the proposals:

The first draft limited the “transportation network companies” — Sidecar, Lyft, UberX — to no more than 100 vehicles each. Now, the updated draft states that the city will issue 300 total TNC driver permits by lottery.

So, instead of capping the number of drivers each company may have, the city wants to cap the overall number of TNC drivers. That means, for example, Seattle could end up with just 300 Lyft drivers, which would exclude Sidecar and UberX from having any drivers. In the original ordinance, each company was allowed up to 100 drivers each — now, however, one company could have more or less than 100 drivers depending on the lottery winners.

The regulations to be voted on considered by a Council committee Friday would also attempt to eliminate working with the services as a full-time pro by capping drivers to 16 hours per week.

Possibly more important from a public safety standpoint, the proposed regulation also requires the services to disclose to drivers that their personal insurance policies may not be adequate in the event of a serious injury incident and also puts the companies on the hook if a driver’s insurance claim is denied. In essence, city officials say the new rules will level the playing field for the new services and the existing taxi regulations in the city.

At the core of all this is the question of whether these new, technology-based services should also be allowed to innovate in the way they staff and run their services. When it comes to cars, at least, the Seattle City Council appears poised to say no.

24 thoughts on “Seattle readies new ridesharing regulations

  1. These regulations will completely destroy the ability for any ridesharing company to operate in Seattle. These regulations are being passed not to protect consumers, but only to protect a city sponsored monopoly that deprives consumers of choice and provides absolutely horrific transportation services.

    • Requiring the rideshare companies to provide insurance and to undergo inspections is surely a way to protect consumers. And it’s about time that the companies were stopped from their unregulated, free ride. If that means they will go out of business, then their business plans weren’t very valid in the first place.

      • Ok.. So, let’s say that these companies do provide insurance and they do undergo inspections (you can assume this happens now, or you can assume this happens after they city mandates it.. doesn’t matter).

        I’ve still not heard ANY reason for the limit of 300 driver permits, or the resulting 16-hour per week limit. Does the state limit how many food-handlers permits are given out? The city doesn’t even regulate cost or the number of limo/luxury vehicles available for hire. The whole thing is driven by the taxi industry.

        I’ve spoken with UberX drivers who are former taxi drivers and not only are they making more money, they own their car and are getting low interest loans if they need assistance to do so. (The only complaint was that they don’t get cash fares which are easily pocketed, so they have to pay more taxes as more fares are on the level).

        The taxicab industry is not only trying to oppress consumer choice by pushing these regulations, they’re also advocating to further oppress their drivers. Look at some interesting information by the city about Taxi/For Hire/Limos (http://clerk.seattle.gov/~public/meetingrecords/2013/taxi20130314_1a.pdf).
        With drivers making approx. $100/shift (after lease and all other fees), license/vehicle owners making up to $18k a year (per car) profit (after all expenses other than dispatch fees) equals about $25 per shift (assuming they lease for two shifts a day), and then taking that $25 and giving about $14 per shift to the taxi “association” for providing dispatch services. There are lots of people with their hands in the pot and the driver’s fare gets split up.

  2. I understand the need for adequate insurance, but that isn’t really what’s driving this push for regulation. It’s an attempt to keep a monopoly going, where drivers have no skills and no responsibility. (I never had an Uber driver do anything like drag my 80-year-old father down Broadway because he didn’t bother to make sure everyone was fully inside the car.)

  3. Can people please stop quoteing the 16 hour limit. Its wrong.

    The 16 hour weekly limit is for drivers without a for-hire license. I.e. people not doing it full time. It isn’t meaning all drivers are limited to 16 hours a week.

    And no, this isn’t going to destroy or eliminate the industry. Despite what the CEO’s will tell you.

    • Rideshare drivers don’t generally have a for-hire license. I don’t see a problem making them get these, as long as all caps are removed. But the 16 hour a week limitation will destroy these wonderful companies that are just trying to provide a service the citizens of Seattle desperately need.

  4. While I agree that the taxi companies have somewhat of a legitimate grievance here, I would offer them some friendly suggestions to step up their game (this is specifically directed at Yellow/Greytop Cab aka Puget Sound Dispatch):

    1. Hire dispatchers who aren’t total raging assholes. Seriously. I’ve never once had a pleasant “can I help you” when I call. It’s always “Address?!?” followed by anger if I don’t respond quickly enough.

    2. Hold your drivers accountable for blowing off dispatch and picking up fares on the street, while the person who called for the ride waits and waits for a cab that will never come (that would be me, on a few occasions).

    3. Drivers, if you take credit cards, just take them. Stop complaining about taking them, and stop asking me if I have cash instead. If I had cash I wouldn’t be using a credit card in the first place! I have always tried to have cash on hand when riding a cab, but once in a while I don’t.

    Sorry, rant over. I agree with the concept of an equal playing field. I also feel like the cab companies feel like they are entitled to my business. Guess what guys, you’re not, and and as long as your customer service sucks, I will continue to use Uber (for as long as they exist here). I really hope common sense prevails and a compromise is reached that will keep them here.

    • I would add a 4th item: bitching when they don’t like your destination or think it isn’t worth their time. Over the past couple of years, all of these reasons have left me refusing to use Seattle’s taxis anymore.

    • Those are spot on, but I have two more:

      4. Require all drivers that do not know the city inside and out (which seems to be the bulk of them) to have a GPS device so customers can simply tell them an address and then let them guide themselves there. Spending my whole trip navigating them (often through a language barrier) is irritating and handing them my phone to use the turn-by-turn directions on deprives me of the use of it during the trip, which can be a good time to catch up on email and news.

      5. Enforce some sort of cleanliness standard. Some of those taxis are filthy and the stench of body odor and/or smoke is nauseating.

      6. Ok this a question and a suggestion: Who the hell are they ALWAYS talking to on the phone? Some multitasking is cool, but when it causes them to miss turns, be in the wrong lane, and ignore their customers instructions, surroundings, etc, it’s a customer service issue. I’m not saying prohibit phone calls, but maybe try not to be on a personal call 95% of the time they have a fare sitting in the back.

      • Isn’t it illegal for them to use a phone while driving? If a cabbie gets on the phone while I’m in the car I get out. Thankfully with Uber you never have this problem since they only use professional drivers.

      • Thanks all, and I agree with all of the extra points made about lousy Yellow Cab service as well. I would be very disappointed to see these companies forced out of the city, it would be a loss.

        • These are all so true! I’ve been in near fist fights with shitty yellow cabbies who either demand cash, want to tell me about jesus christ, or decide to take the long way. Whatever happens with the Uber/Lyfts of the world, I will never use a craptastic yellow cab again.

  5. Who the hell supports these regulations other than the Taxi companies? Has there been a rash of under-insured ride-share accidents, or is the insurance hook just an excuse to protect the city’s control over cab transportation? I suspect it’s the latter–these regulations seem to be no more than petty corruption and protectionism on the part of the council and the taxis.
    Any concerns about insurance need to be balanced against the DUI prevention and awesome convenience that rideshare companies provide. I’m never going back to cabs.

  6. I founded a local car service here in Seattle. Black Crown. I welcome competition like excellent apps such as Flywheel that use properly insured and licensed drivers. Technology is awesome, and totally makes sense. I’ve wanted an app for my service since day one when Apple opened iPhone up to 3rd party developers. But, it was super expensive back then. Still is. The issue is that these “rideshare’ corporations are founded out of naivety. They don’t care, nor understand fleet maintenance, revenue to overhead ratio of a taxi company, and why there is regulation in place. They’re finding out the hard way with each city’s regulations. The idea of adding literally thousands of uninsured vehicles and drivers to our beloved city streets should sound crazy enough to anyone, let alone waiting for accidents to happen. I understand the hostility against the council. Taxi service in Seattle is sub-par at best. Customer service is lacking, dispatchers can be rude, and it’s a total bummer when the driver isn’t as professional as expected. But, there is accountability believe it or not. In the instance of the family in SF being ran over by a rideshare driver killing their 6 year old daughter on NYE, there is zero accountability. The CEO denied any responsibility whatsoever. There is no insurance for the family. Zero. What I’m getting at here is yes, there needs to be major improvements, but these venture backed corporations aren’t the ticket. The council is very aware that there are issues. They are letting great apps like Flywheel thrive, and are issuing more taxi medallions. We have been able to thrive in a very big way ourselves by operating within regulation. Theres no reason why they can’t too.

  7. “level the playing field for the new services and the existing taxi regulations in the city”= allowing an anti-competitive monopoly to continue to provide sub-par/crappy customer service, which is the main reason people are flocking to rideshares in the first place. Guess what, Yellow Cab? Hire better and more professional drivers, allow more flexibility in how to pay for fares, and actually show up when you’re called, and this wouldn’t be so much of an issue.

    I expected better from you, Seattle.

  8. I completely sympathize with the arguments here about how subpar Seattle taxi service is, but you guys aren’t doing yourselves any favors by complaining that taxi drivers are rude, smell bad, or talk on their phones. I moved here from New York (I have also lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, Berlin, London, and Philadelphia), and I have been consistently struck by how much more racist and classist Seattleites are, on subtle levels like this, while somehow also living under the illusion that they are super-progressive. These complaints are not progressive. Your city and blue-collar industry employees are not customer service specialists. Dispatchers and drivers are there to get you from point A to point B, not to make you feel all pleasant and neighborly inside (and by neighborly I mean *specifically* white middle class neighborly, as there are other neighbors in the world with different standards of neighborliness). The complaint about smell is even worse. Cleanliness of vehicle is one thing, but when you say things about “body odor,” you’re also talking about *culture*. In most parts of the world, people say that Americans smell like cleaning products. Your way of being and smelling is simply different; it’s not that standard by which everyone should judge others. Finally, about drivers talking on their phones (I presume in a non-English language): Have you ever had a job that requires you to be performing a repetitive service at all hours — 11pm, 3am, etc. for long shifts and days on end? I have. You want to talk to your family sometimes. You want to say goodnight to your kids. Or make plans with a friend for those precious moments when you’re not working. Your complaints about drivers “multitasking” are complaints about them **being working class**. Your demands that the working person performing you a service give you their absolute undivided attention, smell like you, and behave like you is imperious and parochial. It’s the kind of thing that belongs on Downton Abbey, not in a vibrant global city.

    • Excellent comment, Jeff! I don’t use taxis very often, but when I have I have received perfectly competent service. Yes, of course there are a few horror stories, but in the vast majority of cases taxi drivers do a great job.

    • Jeff, do you think it’s too much to ask for dispatchers to treat customers like human beings, to follow up when drivers don’t pick them up, and for drivers to get customers where they need to go without hassle? I don’t care if the driver is talking on the phone, as long as they have a hands-free device and don’t let it interfere with their driving. It’s my money, and I don’t think that any of this is unreasonable.

      Regardless of your answer, I have to say that I find your blanket statement about Seattlites being racist and classist pretty offensive.

    • Several things.

      1. Blue-collar industry or not, I think what the companies (specifically Uber) that are challenging the status-quo are proving (around the country, not just here in Seattle) is that what consumers demand more than anything from a service industry is service. I use Uber and UberX all the time, and somehow they’ve managed to work with their drivers to come up with a service standard that includes a decent smelling car that is clean and where the driver is respectful and I’ve not experienced an Uber driver talking on the phone the whole time like I have in a cab. You don’t see Metro drivers chatting away with their family. You can’t do that at other long-shift **working class** jobs. Try chatting on the phone for hours on end while serving food, or on a fabrication line. You’re making excuses for poor service and blaming the customer.

      2. The few times I’ve taken a cab in Seattle it was an extremely sub-par experience compared to the competition that the Taxi lobby is working so hard to put out of business. Your broad observations about Seattleites are offensive and just another opportunity to make excuses. The drivers that smell bad AREN’T always cultural issues… I’ve had several older Caucasian cab drivers that clearly didn’t see any reason to address personal hygiene in a way that you’d expect from someone in the service industry. Why has it gotten so bad? Because until very recently, the market has provided no competition to force the standard higher… it’s a shame the Seattle City Council can’t balance it’s desire to regulate with recognizing it is selling out to a lobby group and stifling market innovation. Are they even curious why “ride sharing” services are creating such a popular alternative to taxis? Because these ridiculous medallion regulations in almost every major city have only benefited a very small group of people while preventing new entries into the industry.

      • Thanks, Josh! Having worked in customer service before, I know bad service when I see it and it has more often than not been my experience with the taxi industry. I’m glad to see that they are getting some healthy competition.

        One other obvious advantage of Uber that I forgot to mention earlier: usually they are cheaper than a taxi. This doesn’t apply when they have surge pricing in effect. I’m not a huge fan of this, but they are very good about notifying customers when this is happening so that there are no surprises.

    • That’s utter nonsense Jeff. None of the suggestions Paul and I listed were the least bit racist or classist. And dispatchers and cabbies are absolutely in the customer service business. Their primary function certainly is go get us from A to B, but how reliably, courteously, and professionally they go about that is extremely important to their business. Uber is eating their lunch because it provides much better service and instead of upping their game, the taxi lobby is trying to have their competition legislated away.

      I’m well aware that there are parts of the world where it’s acceptable to smell like body odor, but this ain’t one of them. If we had to go onsite with clients in a part of the world that finds the smell of grooming products offensive, we’d refrain from using them that morning and do things their way because customer service. I’m not suggesting that our smell is superior, but simply that it’s the custom here. I think they should smell as much like BO as they’d like on their own time, but smell nice (or not at all) while sharing close quarters with their customers.

      As for the phone suggestion, that’s not racist or classist either and I never mentioned it being non-English languages- you wrote that. My main gripes with that are that it often takes priority over driving safely and listening to customers’ directions. And yes, I’ve had many jobs that did not permit me to make personal calls while working; getting through a long shift without them is totally doable.

      None of the things Paul or I listed were “demands”, nor were they borne out of any resentment for the working class or people of color. They were suggestions on how best to compete with Uber. Now that we’ve had a taste of it, it’s become pretty clear that people here prefer reliable, polite, body odor-free service. It’s pretty lousy that instead of improving their service levels to compete or going out of business, they’re trying to have their reliable, polite, odor-free competitors outlawed so they can go back to enjoying their monopoly.