Seattle throttles back on freelance drivers for car service start-ups

In a vote that bought established taxi companies time to play catch-up and delayed bigger decisions around the new-era services, a Seattle City Council committee voted Thursday on a compromise solution to cap the number of drivers that can be active on new pro-am car services like UberX, Lyft and Sidecar.

The two-year “pilot” plan approved Thursday will cap the number of drivers on each service at 150 active cars for hire. The vote was the result of an attempt to head off an even more restrictive cap:

Rasmussen was joined by Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, Jean Godden and Sally Clark in voting for the limit, which was a compromise aimed at heading off an effort by other Councilmembers who wanted to cap the total number of drivers across all of the companies at 400.

Councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata and Bruce Harrell were those favoring a total limit of 400 drivers.

Local tech news outlet Geekwire claims “nobody is happy” with the vote that follows months of debate — and marketing. On Thursday, some customers of ridesharing service Uber were annoyed by “robo-calls” imploring them to contact officials at City Hall prior to Thursday’s vote. You could press “1” to be connected to the mayor’s office. Representatives for some of the car services have said the caps will force them to pull out of the Seattle market. Others also operate more traditional-styled car networks in the city and won’t see those services affected by the cap on so-called rideshare options that employee freelance drivers.

The full City Council must now vote on the committee-approved legislation.

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15 thoughts on “Seattle throttles back on freelance drivers for car service start-ups

  1. Why in the world does anyone think it’s a good idea to limit supply? All the time everyone talks about this utopia where few people drive, buildings don’t need parking spots, etc. But then an innovative and superior service to traditional taxis emerges, and it needs to be kneecapped.

    Require them to have training, additional insurance, whatever, but there is no reason for the cap other than to keep prices artificially high and preserve the traditional taxi industry that frankly, deserves to die for its lack of innovation over the past decades. Shame on the council, and the mayor if he signs this anti-market dribble.

    • Taxis of various sorts have been in service for a very long time, even predating the automobile….both in the USA and around the world. Do you really think the industry should “die.”? Not very realistic….

  2. Limiting the number of active for-hire vehicles on the city’s streets is a sensible measure to address traffic issues, and ensure that all drivers of for-hire-vehicles don’t outpace demand for those vehicles. I’m not sure that the city went about it the right way. What happens if a new TNC pops up tomorrow? Do they get their own 150 car quota? What happens if Uber shuts down UberX as they are threatening? Does their 150 quota get split between Lyft and Sidecar? And the new proposed regulation does nothing (so far as I can tell) to address the issue of fare gouging, discrimination (drivers not responding to ride requests based on some protected class) or complaints.

    • Traffic issues? I really don’t think the car services are a big contribute to any traffic problem. These services are keeping regular drivers off the street, and better yet party and event-goers use these to avoid having to park and/or drive drunk.
      These services make the city better and the driver cap really just favors the taxi industry – note that they are also going to increase the number of taxis, so its not about traffic.

      These services offer a better solution and put pressure on the drivers to be good (if you don’t maintain a high rating, you get fired). It puts incentives to offer better drivers and with several companies there is free market pressure on price. The new car services are an economists dream – its just better.

  3. I can’t believe anyone would find this too restrictive, at least as far as Capitol Hill goes– 450 (max) car shares operating at any given time in city of Seattle is a lot. Most of them will still be harvesting passengers from Capitol Hill. Yeah, some will be in Belltown and Lower QA and Ballard/Freemont and SLU, but 150 max is still a lot–and very nearby. And I have trouble believing they’ll be tripping over themselves competing for passengers in/around other parts of city of Seattle like Rainier Valley or SODO or White Center.

    • Why have a cap at all? Let the market decide how many ride shares are required to meet demand. It’s not like Seattle has capped bus routes running at one time, bike lanes, or sidewalks.

      And even if some sort of cap was justifiable, the city council are completely and utterly unqualified to make a determination on what it should be. The limit is totally arbitrary to keep prices higher and keep the traditional taxis in business.

      And the only reason the City Council wants the traditional taxis still in business is that they get a better cut of the money.

  4. A cap like this is asinine, as it is simultaneously a) difficult for services to put into operation, b) nearly impossible for the City to enforce, and c) unrelated in any way to the interests of consumers.

    This is classic regulatory capture, doing nothing more than protecting the taxi industry from competition.

  5. Mike O’Brien, Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata and Bruce Harrell will not be getting my vote they next time they are up for re-election.

    • Add me to the list. I voted for all 4 in the past and won’t again.

      The article says, they were buying time for the local cab companies to play catch-up. How absurd! Cab companies have been around for decades and have brought us, long waits, dirty cabs, lousy dispatch service and drivers who are often impolite to other cars. Now they say, we’ve been blindsided by new companies who provide good service!

      Sawant is really ridiculous. She says, all corporations are just greedy jerks, so she favors protecting some corporations over others. She favors “workers paradise” cab companies where the employees are contractors and no minimum wage applies — you can work a whole shift as a cab driver and get zero. Meanwhile, Lift pays a decent hourly wage and Uber uses its market power to get Toyota and GM to give its drivers a good deal on cars. But hey, she’s a pretty doctrinaire academinc socialist, so there’s probably some snotty treatise somewhere how cab companies represent the socialist ideal, or at least help people see how lousy capitalism is or something.

      Harrell, O’Brien and Licata seem to cry crocodile tears over how lots of cab drivers are immigrants. Well, I’ve seen immigrants driving Uber and Lyft. And really, cab companies as caretakers of their drivers? How about some regulation that prevents cab companies from ripping drivers off, gentlemen? Such as perhaps a rule that cab companies must pay cab drivers net equal to the minimum wage for each shift? But wait, if we forced cab companies to pay decent wages to their drivers, probably they wouldn’t pay those huge prices for cab medallions, right? We have to consider fairness to the cab company owners who’ve paid good money for medallions that are free from inconveniences like having to pay workers a minimum wage.

      • An argument made by some taxi industry supporters is that they were BLOCKED from making some of these exact type of improvements by existing regulations — and that they would be happy to make changes if allowed to do so by the City/County/Port.