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Seattle’s long UberX, Lyft and Sidecar nightmare is over

You rideshare customers are finally not breaking city law. The Seattle City Council officially approved new legislation Monday on a two-year cap on the number of freelance drivers that “transportation network companies” like UberX, Lyft and Sidecar can have active at any given time in the city. CHS posted about the new rules here in late February.

The two-year “pilot” plan approved by the council will cap the number of drivers on each service at 150 active cars for hire. “The city’s new regulations also spell out mandatory insurance coverage for TNC drivers,” KPLU reports.

Saying the plan “isn’t a complete fix, but it’s a start,” Council member Sally Clark said, “Customers want more choices and better service. TNC vehicles will now become a legal choice with appropriate driver, vehicle and insurance safeguards.”

Taxi companies serving Seattle are now expected to play catch-up on the app and service side of the equation. We’ll see how that shakes out as the pilot runs its course.

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34 thoughts on “Seattle’s long UberX, Lyft and Sidecar nightmare is over

  1. The cap will cripple rideshare companies. Uber currently has 300 cars running at any time, and 900 drivers total. The taxi drivers get to keep their monopoly, and the rest of us suffer.

    • I hate taxis and there poor service, I also have questions about these wall street packed services. there are limits to all the personal transportation. 1500 town cars, 688 taxis, 200 for hires and also 500 car-to-go. We are a city with 630k. there has to be a limit to ride shares too. Supply and demand…… regulations ensures public safety.

  2. What a joke – is the city council elected by the taxi lobby? Why not do something new, like de-regulate taxis by keeping safety requirements in place (i.e. insurance, background checks, etc…), but not limit the # cars for hire on the road. Taxi drivers are so much more scary than Uber drivers – there is no rating systems, I have been in many Taxis where the driver thinks he is in the ‘fast and furious’ or has been in the country and only driving for a month. At least uber culls bad drivers with poor ratings.

  3. “NIghtmare is over”. Seems like it is just starting with these new restrictions.

    “Rideshare customers are finally not breaking city law”. I don’t think we customers were breaking any laws?

    It would be great to see a followup article on precisely what the restrictions are, and how Uber is planning to comply (or will they leave the area?). What is an Uber driver in Mercer Island supposed to do when a customer wants to go to Seattle, but the quota in Seattle is used up? Who is going to monitor the number of cars in service?

  4. This is embarrassing for the City of Seattle. This decision single handedly is going to bring back decades in terms of innovation and technology acceptance. This is an outdated and narrow minded decison.

    I thought Seattle was supposed to be progressive??

  5. Why would Seattle be progressive when it comes to a service for moneyed people that’s trying to put lower- and working-class people out of work? And it’s not exactly keeping cars off the road.

    Whether the shitty cabs should/can be improved is an entirely different topic; changing your current laws just so some Google and Facebook club kids can order something on their phone reeks of entitlement.

    Also, Uber is a pretty scummy company that manipulates its pricing to gouge the public during rush hours. That’s not a particularly progressive–or possibly even legal–business model.

    • By this logic we should ban netflix as it has run Blockbuster out of business costing lots of jobs. Also gotta limit the number of packages Amazon can ship as that also is hurting local businesses.

      Obviously these are both stupid ideas. Just like the cap on the number of drivers is.

      • My response was more tongue-in-cheek to “Seattle is supposed to be progressive.” Well, Uber is run by a Rand-quoting asshole, and is free to use predatory pricing to line their pockets because they claim to not be cabs. Is that really a net positive? Maybe.

        Or maybe we should remove all pricing restrictions on cabs, guaranteeing them access to more revenue by freely letting them charge you an extra $100—or hey, why not allow bartering?—to go to the airport instead of having a city-mandated fee. With all of their extra cash, they can probably afford to make an app. And maybe clean the interior a couple of times a year.

        Anyway, your comment about Blockbuster isn’t quite right because Netflix, at launch, was way less convenient, just as online shopping only is only disruptive of retail for items that aren’t needed “right now.” Netflix also wasn’t able to circumvent (and ignore) existing laws designed to protect consumers from predatory pricing by claiming it’s something altogether different.

        (Streaming hurt your local videostore more than Netflix ever did, though Redbox seems to be hanging in there.)

        As for other comments, cabs are one of the few jobs minorities and immigrants can easily get; will those two groups get the same ratings as all of the nice white kids, guaranteeing them equal footing in the “hot or not” world of Uber? Dunno, but it’s not like Uber cares. It has its billions of investment cash that it’s burning through, and will probably be out of business in a year. So it’s all probably moot anyway.

      • The bulk of my Uber and UberX drivers have been from immigrant communities or are minorities as a whole, so I think you can drop the idea that Uber (and other like companies) are hurting the working prospects of a particular community.

        And UberX, which is what this regulation applies to, is price competitive with cabs – so I’m not sure what the point of your “service for moneyed people” comment really is.

        The particular niceties of some of Uber’s business practices or the politics of its executives don’t have anything to do with whether or not this is a fair, valuable service that should be available to the market without limits to availability. The council hasn’t done anything to protect consumers with this vote.

      • If you understand that UberX is a business, don’t you agree the company, drivers and the vehicles should have adequate business license, background checked, properly insured and even vehicles inspected. UbetX has no business license at all and ignored our laws
        Don’t you agree that drivers should have rights and not exploited by wall street
        Taxis, limos, For Hires and even car-to-go have limits. This means balancing supply and demand. If the city don’t do that then families can not depend on it and the streets could be flooded with drivers and not enough passengers

      • “As for other comments, cabs are one of the few jobs minorities and immigrants can easily get…”

        Have you ever taken an Uber? Who do you think is driving them? Most of the UberX drivers I ever got a ride with were former taxi drivers who preferred the Uber model, and were exclusively immigrants. This restriction eliminates jobs for hundreds of these vulnerable people.

      • 1. It’s rare when I get picked up by an Uber or UberX driver that is actually from the States. It’s maybe happened once or twice. I’ve been picked up by 0 white people.

        2. They warn you about any price increase before you actually send the request for a pickup from Uber.

        3. The price raise is tough, but the reality is that on new years eve, if you want a ride home ASAP, you can get one through Uber if you want to pay extra. If you want to take a Cab, you don’t need to pay more, BUT, you’re pretty much at their mercy when it comes to when you get picked up.

        4. I hate calling for a cab over the phone. Every time I’ve done it the person on the other end is rude and they take their time getting there. The operator acts like I owe them money. It sucks. It sounds like you haven’t called for a cab and used Uber. you have no idea how much better it is. Plus you get an ETA that updates as the car approaches. You can even watch the car approach you on the map.

        5. I’ve been turned down by cabs because I wasn’t traveling far enough. A lot of cabs downtown are only interested in going to the airport. I’ve had a cab actually pick me up, but then also pick up someone else to go to the airport after dropping me off. This kind of crap has never happened to me in an Uber.

        6. “it’s not like Uber cares. It has its billions of investment cash that it’s burning through”
        > billions
        wait…are you trolling?

    • How is Uber “putting lower- and working-class people out of work”?

      The last three Uber times I used Uber, the drivers all told me that they used to work for taxi companies but switched to Uber and are much happier (make more money and have more flexible conditions).

      Uber has 1000 drivers working in Seattle. It is creating jobs, not destroying them.

    • Are you kidding? So what if they gouge their prices? Maybe I need a car more than you do and I’m willing to pay more. If you don’t like the service don’t use it. No one is forcing you to use Uber. There’s nothing immoral about what they’re doing. Prices always fluctuate with supply and demand and that’s always fair. Try getting a driver to risk their safety in bad weather without paying more. You can start a company, and never change your prices. See how long you stay in business. Out-compete Uber. Nothing stopping you. The government making TAXIs a monopoly is the problem preventing competition. I can’t get a taxi to pick me up but I can get an Uber to guarantee me they will, when I need them most, when my safety depends on it.

  6. @HerpDerp Yeah. Why should we let those moneyed FB/Google yuppies give that money to more middle-class UberX/Lyft drivers?

    In seriousness, I (a software yuppie), sold my car when I moved here *because* of UberX. Now, I find myself in the market for a car again. Great work, city council.

  7. I agree that City Council made the wrong call – I much prefer the service and hate Seattle taxis with a passion, but I really hate how the dramatic language Uber used to rally people for their cause. “Save UberX” and “Thousands of small business owners will be shut down” or that it would be “dismantled”. Dismantled? It was such hyperbolic bullshit. “Heavily restrcited” would have been correct.

    I’m all on UberX’s side on this, I just hated their campaign of insincerity.

  8. Firstly: Stop calling it ride share. Uber, Uberx, lyft, sidecar, etc… are no more “ride share” than a limo or a taxi. You are paying for a transportation service. No one is sharing anything. These are Fore-Hire vehicles services. You pay someone to take you from point a to point b. (in seattle, only vehicles licensed to pick up street hails can be called Taxis, fyi)

    Secondly: taxi and for-hire vehicle dispatch is ripe for innovation. And some of the larger companies are innovating, case-in-point: east side for hire. They are using Flywheel to dispatch flat rate for-hire vehicles. No surge pricing. And you can get them dispatched by telephone as well.

    Third: Seattle does not have enough licensed Taxis (that can pick up street hails). And that is what left the market wide open for this flush of for-hire vehicles (TNCs and flat-rates). The city should have added more licenses years ago.

    Now for many people who see a sea of yellow taxicabs and assume they are all owned by one company. You are wrong. Many taxicabs in Seattle are actually owned by individuals who then are signed up to get dispatch calls from yellow.
    Read about it here: “Yellow Cabs are comprised of independent cab owners, and vehicles leased by BYG Taxi Cooperative Association to drivers. All drivers of BYG taxicabs are independent contractors. Neither Puget Sound Dispatch nor BYG render transportation services, only the drivers of the taxicabs transport fares. Puget Sound Dispatch is a dispatch company and BYG is a vehicle leasing company. ”

    Puget Sound Dispatch (Yellow Cab) is a TNC just like Uber, except their technology is decades old and doesn’t work (you call a central dispatcher, wait 0 to 10 minutes for someone to pickup, then get asked a handful of questions that are redundant, and told you cab, if available, will be there in 3 to 25 minutes, and it may never show up at all).

    BYG may be a taxi owning company, I have no idea how many of the City’s taxis they own, but they are not the only owners of taxis. Many individuals have borrowed significant sums of money to buy a license to operate a taxi in this town. And for those people who own a taxicab license, and need a second driver to drive it with them and pay them a lease price, they will have a smaller pool of drivers willing to work for them. Those people will be hurt.

    Telephone dispatch services like Puget Sound Dispatch continue to serve an important sector of the market: People without smartphones who will not be able to call or hail vehicles signed up with the TNCs, and people without credit or debit cars are also excluded from using these services. But there is no reason the PSD can’t add app based dispatch services, and they should be required to.

    There are no significant repercussions if a driver signed up with uber or sidecar, or lyft lets their friend or brother drive under their account. Whereas a licensed cab driver would probably loose their license, and be fined. The TNC driver could just switch to another TNC.

    The council’s new regs are idiotic, to be sure, they will only stifle innovation, and they don’t do much to protect the public. And they don’t necessarily scale: What happens with some new TNC starts up? do they get 150 vehicle allotment? what happens when uberx withdraws from our market? do those 150 “cars” get allotted to another company?

    The council has setup a regulator asymmetry that will hurt taxicab medallion (license) owners and operators, and won’t necessarily make the for hire-vehicle system in this town any better.

    Rather than bowing to the technorati in this town who surely flooded the 9 council members with phone calls and emails at Uber’s behest, the council should have consulted experts and other cities dealing with similar for-hire vehicle issues, and also looked closely at the impact of adding more for-hire vehicles to the city’s roads on traffic.

    A better approach would have been to:
    -set some (higher) upper bound limit to the number of TNC vehicles on the road on any given day (they almost got that right) perhaps with a time of day/day of week elasticity

    -charged either drivers or the TNCs for these “licenses” to generate revenue, (a $10 daily fee on 1000 vehicles could raise $3.6 million for a variety of transit, transportation, or traffic related projects). If you sold some, or all of the licensed to drivers, the TNCs would then have to provide the best service and pricing structure to the drivers. The drivers would be powerful, and could depend on having the driving job as a regular gig. By giving the full allotment to the TNCs, they have the power, and can abuse the drivers, charge higher fees, or arbitrarily deny the driver the right to work, the only recourse a driver has is to go to one of the other TNCs.

    -mandate that all for-hire vehicles (including Taxis with puget sound dispatch) have an e-hail mechanism (app based arrangement),

    -require TNC drivers have a WA State Limo License ( and meet the other requirements set out by the WA DOL for Limos. This would protect the riding public and ensure that there was a mechanism to punish a driver (suspension or revocation of their limo license) in the event that they do something bad like abuse a customer, discriminate against a customer, give their vehicle (and app) to an unauthorized driver, etc…

    Hopefully the new rules are so bad that they will not work, and will require careful reconsideration.

    And a note about me: I don’t have any relationship with businesses that own or operate transportation services here in Seattle. I’m just a bit of a for-hire vehicle geek. The business of for hire vehicles is far more complex than most people realize, even legislators, and small rule changes can have significant unintended consequences.

    • Great breakdown. I don’t agree with all of your proposals, but I do think the Council egregiously punted any meaningful legislation with this vote. In essence they have curbed the TNCs in order to allow Taxi companies a chance to “catch up” (tell me if you think this sounds like a fair, free market move) and haven’t provided any changes that protect customers of TNCs, adjust any problematic business practices of TNCS, or address any of the myriad problems with the existing taxi system or individual companies that helped drive this demand in the first place. That’s why this cap is “regressive”.

      • Grant: yes. It was a punt. And honestly, it should not take much time for the taxi companies (puget sound dispatch really) to catch up: sign a deal with flywheel, or some other e-hail app provider, and start letting people arrange a taxi trip with an app!

  9. Your spin on this story is really disheartening. UberX, Lyft, and Sidecar were only nightmares for taxi companies that weren’t used to having to actually compete or care about customer service. Plenty of people use these services who are not entitled, upper-class technocrats, because they generally let you save money compared to a taxi or vast amounts of time compared to a bus, and this asinine policy reduces our options. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

  10. All you people are conveniently glossing over one of the primary issues the Council was focusing on: INSURANCE. Did you read about the little 6-year old girl who got mowed down in the crosswalk in San Francisco by an Uber driver? Skeezy little Uber tried to deny any liability because the driver “…was not actively on a route for Uber and did not have a passenger in the car at the time of the accident.”.

    WHEN do you suppose a ‘ride-share’ driver is most likely to hit somebody? Precisely when they’re looking for another fare, gazing at their smartphone, and not paying any attention to pedestrians, when there’s no passenger in the car. Naturally the driver had barely diddly for insurance. The family of the dead little girl had to go after Uber. Sure, now, recently Uber has made some changes to their insurance coverages– but it only happened because cities are now trying to put some safeguards in place.

    All you people looking for cheap rides like to breeze over this factor like it’s not important. Yeah, well, try telling that to the family of the dead little 6 year old. I for one am glad the City Council is looking out for ALL our interests, not just looking for cheap rides with no concern for the public interest.

    • The unfortunate fact, though, is the city didn’t do anything yesterday to make this scenario less likely. They put an arbitrary cap on the # of drivers, which restricts the viability of the service but doesn’t address issues like insurance/liability and driver qualification.

      The council did nothing here to protect public safety.

    • If insurance were really the issue, the Council would have just passed insurance requirements. Instead, it capped rideshares, which shows that the real issue was city control of taxi services (and municipal revenue).

      I’m really peeved at the six members of the Council who pushed this. I will do my tiny part to vote them out of office.

      • there should be regulation for the safety of riders, not to protect the taxi’s monopoly. this vote doesn’t solve any problems other than to protect the taxi monopoly. this is so assassin.

      • Do you know that the city did its job to balance supply and demand. We have about 3000 taxis, For Hires, Car To go, Town Cars and limos. All of them has limits. It is not to protect but more so to balance demand and supply.
        After all non of these companies did not even have a business license. It is like opening a restaurant without permit and after a year of cooking food trying to get a permit because people like your food.
        To be fair the council imposed commercial insurance and should be filled with the city (which meets for hire standard)

  11. To confirm though, this cap only applies to UberX (rideshare) and not the higher-priced Uber (car service) though, correct? Those are two separate divisions, I believe.

    • That is correct. To the guy complaining that only rich people can afford Uber, with these caps in place that is now correct as it will become difficult to find a ride on UberX, while remaining easy (and expensive) on Uber.

  12. So, just to be clear… we should be upset that our right to have a private car service shuffle us back and forth to the bars has been hampered?

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