The City’s Terrible Rideshare Service Proposal

Lyft

A lyft vehicle in San Francisco. Photo by Spiro Vathis.

Last week, the city council published a proposal for a regulatory scheme for ride-share services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. While the scheme would take currently illegal services out of the grey market, the proposal is truly terrible. I won’t go into details of the regulations, you can read those at the link above or this Seattle Times article ($), this Geekwire article (which has the best summary of the regulations) or this Publicola post. It seems clear the proposal’s intention is to appease incumbent taxi and car-service providers by essentially running these new-services out of Seattle by putting onerous and arbitrary restrictions on their operations.

But don’t take my word for it? Here’s councilman Harrell:

“Why wouldn’t we limit the number of TNCs?” Harrell asked rhetorically. “We are trying to limit supply. That is the policy choice we’ve made. I don’t see any ambiguity in that.”

I’ve never used Lyft, Sidecar, Uber or other ride-share services. I don’t take taxis either, generally. I usually try to plan ahead to make sure I either can take a bus or walk if I’m not going to drive. I can see why these services exist, though. Taxis are terribly expensive and never around when you need them. I’ve waited on the phone for more than 45 minutes just to request a cab before, for the cab to only show up an hour after the call. I’ve been in a taxi that blew a tire on I-5, pulled off the freeway and left me to walk the rest of the distance home[1], some five miles – lucky me I’m young and in good shape! Imagine if I had been a mother with children and shopping bags. I’ve been in taxis that have tried to charge me extra when we got to the destination because they couldn’t pick up fares there[2]. I’ve also been in cabs that have gotten completely lost and driven miles in the wrong direction, all on my dime.

So I understand why people want competition. We know there’s a public-safety issue late at night when the small number of taxis is insufficient to take home the number of people too drunk to drive. Try calling a cab on New Years’ at 2am. I can imagine someone, faced with the option of waiting a couple of hours for an expensive taxi ride, deciding to instead drive because they’re only a “little drunk”, which is really the worst option available. Reducing the number of available drivers and cars can’t help this problem.

Now, there may be a public safety issue the other way, with unqualified people picking up strangers and driving them around. But, presumably, these are people we let drive now, cars we allow on the road already, and passengers capable of making their own risk decisions. If someone is out to cause trouble and kidnap someone, for example, there are likely less troublesome ways to do it then sign up to be a Lyft driver.

At the end of the day, this is the populace and consumers of Seattle vs incumbent taxi drivers. I’m for anything that reduces the need to have cars, saves people money and increases public safety. You’d think the city-council might have similar desires but, sadly, they seem more interested in protecting special-interests.

[1] The driver tried to get me to pay for the distance up to that point, if you can imagine that.

[2] Surely, another sign of a broken regulatory scheme.

Comments

  1. Bellinghammer says

    I’m a Lyft driver, and I agree with the author that this proposal is terrible. My thoughts:

    (1. Lyft has more consumer protections than taxis, including GPS tracking of the entire ride from start to finish, access to both driver and passenger data including stored credit cards (so a driver can’t be stiffed), the ability of both driver and passenger to cancel requests if they feel uncomfortable, the pink mustache makes the vehicle conspicuous and easily located, and both parties have instant access to the support helpline via the app.

    (2. Uber and Lyft only compete with a fraction of the market, those that have smartphones and (in Lyft’s case) Facebook accounts. Taxi companies have access to the entire market, and social obligations to accommodate any requests, and the public service nature of that should be recognized by the city and accounted for, but without threatening innovation at the high end of the market.

    (3. Capping supply is crazy, and rideshare companies are the perfect innovation to the problem of managing demand. Unlike cabs — whose licenses should absolutely be expanded by more than the paltry 50 offered by the city — rideshare companies actively and dynamically manage demand in real time. Lyft cars are not out there trolling for hails, they are parked, waiting for requests. Lyft schedules a very specific number of drivers depending on demand, and it kicks unreserved drivers out if too many cars are on the road. And since rideshare cars are people’s personal vehicles, they have no fundamental investment in being a rideshare car at any given time; they can be activated or deactivated at will at no cost.

    Bottom line, these companies have singlehandedly modernized the industry by leveraging perhaps the worst sunk cost in American history: the 95% of the time that personal vehicles sit idle. Alongside transit and Car2Go, Lyft/Uber offer an incredibly convenient amenity that provides enormous confidence to people that they can forego their car at any given time and still get home reasonably. The city should absolutely regulate insurance, car inspection, and consumer protections, but they have no business capping supply or driver hours. Let the (regulated) market determine demand!

    • Bellinghammer says

      Not to mention that the completely cashless model is safer for both driver and passenger, and that drivers and passengers rate each other (with space for comments) after each ride. In Lyft’s case, ratings impact your ability to get and keep driver hours, so the system crowdsources reliability and the passenger experience to determine which drivers to give more or fewer hours. And anyone rated 3 stars or below will never be matched with that person again, so both drivers and passengers can avoid a repeat of a bad experience.

    • Lack Thereof says

      Capping supply is crazy

      For-hire licenses have no cap,at least at the county level. If the city has a cap, I haven’t been able to find what it is.

      There is a logical reason to cap the number of hailable taxicabs: To ensure the market remains profitable enough to keep them on the street and hailable 24/7. Fixed-price hailable cabs are considered a basic public necessity.

      There’s no reason to limit the supply of for-hire cars. For-hire passengers can choose which service they use, rather than having to take whatever drives up. For-hire companies can set their own fares. For-hire is a much more functional, self-regulating marketplace than hailed taxicabs.

      Perhaps we need to fully segment the market, like in New York. In New York, not only are for-hire cars forbidden to pick up street fares, yellow taxis are forbidden to take dispatch fares. While less operationally efficient than our system (in which our taxis can do both, and thus avoid some counter-peak deadheading), it removes direct competition between for-hire and taxis, which could result in more reasonable regulation overall, and not a world where taxicab operators attempt to extend their monopoly into the for-hire market.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        The number of for-hire vehicle licenses in effect at any one (1) time shall not exceed two hundred (200).

        - SMC 6.310.500

    • Nathanael says

      It really does sound like Seattle has some of the worst taxi service in the US. Though I’ve heard equally terrible stories about some other cities (Albany, NY in particular).

    • Richard Borkowski says

      These services may be called ‘car sharing’ but they’re simply using their personal vehicles as taxis in their spare time…. without telling their insurance companies that they’re using their cars for commercial purposes. Zipcar is a car sharing service. Lyft is merely a taxi company that is less regulated than regular cab service.

      If Seattle taxi service sucks, it’s because the people of Seattle let it suck. It’s regulated by the City Council for a reason. Namely, so the public can have input into how it works and how to improve it.

      I travel to New Haven, CT from New York on occasion and I call a cab to get a ride to/from the train station. When I call, the dispatcher tells me when the cab will be coming. And I get an automated phone call about 3 minutes before it arrives. All of the cabs are tracked on GPS. Seattle just needs to demand more from its cab service, and the city council who monitors its operation.

    • Chris Van Dyk says

      You need to read your insurance policy. You will most likely find an exclusion, that when operated for compensation — and that is a broad term certainly inclusive of Lyft services — your automobile insurance is inoperative.

      That means you have no coverage, and your passengers have no coverage. And they have a right of action against you, for whatever losses they may incur. And Lyft’s policy? It covers Lyft, not you or your passenger.

  2. Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

    Watching the meetings it has been painfully clear that Harrell is only interested in protecting the interests of the incumbent taxi drivers, not in making good policy.

    It’s too bad, because after the last meeting there seemed to be consensus on moving toward loosening the regulatory straitjacket on cabs to allow more innovation in that area, merging the asinine look-like-cabs-but-aren’t for-hire vehicles into the taxicab framework, and enacting some reasonable insurance, inspection and training requirements for the rideshare companies.

    This is just awful. It would all but ensure the death of the ridesharing companies while not doing anything to improve the atrocious quality of the cabs in this city.

    At least those with the money will still be able to call an Uber Black, since the state pre-empts Seattle from regulating limos.

      • Bellinghammer says

        I’m not sure about Lyft’s exact rates, but from my intuiting of my charge summaries, it’s something reasonably close to $5 base + $1/mile + $.50/minute for waiting.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        Uber Black is “regular Uber” as opposed to UberX or Uber SUV. These proposed regulations would only affect UberX, since Uber Black and Uber SUV qualify as limo services, which as I noted the city is not authorized to regulate.

      • Lack Thereof says

        To be more general than Matt, Uber Black is a towncar service, and is what you get if you just stick with the defaults on the Uber smartphone app.

        The rates are higher than UberX, but you get 1) a luxury car, 2) free bottled water, and 3) A for-hire licensed car & driver.

  3. Sam says

    So far, nobody here has swayed me that this is a terrible proposal. I’m just seeing a lot of foot stomping and people saying this isn’t fair, but these are businesses that are involved in public transportation. And like any transportation company, they have to be strictly regulated. Just because something is new, or good for the environment, or hipsters love it, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have to play by the same rules that other companies play by.

    • William C. says

      I agree. But, I need to see a real justification for such intrusive government regulations. What actual problems are they trying to address? Can the problems be solved by other methods, such as Uber’s rating system? Why do they need to be strictly regulated, beyond just being a transportation company?

      And while we’re weighing the costs and benefits, we need to remember there’s a real problem here with cabs being insufficient to meet demand and not adapting to serve customer needs. (Also, they need some stricter enforcement of regulations, if Andrew’s story of being kicked out by the side of I-5 is any guide.)

      • William C. says

        (Just to clarify, Sam – I’m agreeing with the last part of your comment about hipster-cool, environmentalist, and new things having to play by the same rules, not your judgment on whether these rules are a good idea.)

    • Andrew Smith says

      Sam, I agree that something isn’t good just because hipsters love it. But these services are good for consumers. we need to justify the regulations, and “protecting taxi drivers” isn’t a good enough answer.

      There are good regulations and bad ones. These are bad ones.

      • Sam says

        Agreed. There are good regulations and bad. But to be consistent and fair, then we have to let other companies that are in the public transportation business also not have to: have their vehicles inspected for safety, require driver training, have to pay licensing fees, carry umbrella insurance, etc.

      • Bellinghammer says

        My vehicle was inspected thoroughly, and I was delayed by 3 weeks from starting as a Lyft driver until I could supply proof that I had fixed a dent the size of a quarter. They ensured that all my lights, wipers, fluids, heat, A/C were operational, and that no warning lights were activated when the car was idling.

      • Lack Thereof says

        This particular proposal replaces a bad situation with a worse one, in my opinion.

        Lyft and UberX type services need to be rolled in to the existing countywide for-hire licensing system, not legislated out of existence, nor kept as unregulated ride shares.

        The current major players in the rideshare for-hire market have good comprehensive vehicle inspections and driver screening, but they do it out of the kindness of their hearts. They have no obligation to do so, and there is absolutely nothing to stop a new scrappy low-balling competitor from entering the market with uninspected cars and unqualified drivers.

      • Nathanael says

        I’d like people to think a little harder about this “unqualified drivers” phrase.

        Everyone driving a Lyft or UberX car has a driver’s license.

        If they’re “unqualified” to drive people around in a car, [i]why the **** do they have a driver’s license?[/i].

        So this worry is really a worry that the state is failing to regulate drivers’ licenses properly. This is a very real worry — most states seem to hand them out like candy even to people who crash their cars on a regular basis — but it’s not specific to Uber or Lyft. It’s a problem with the entire drivers’ license regulation system.

        Anyone who is licensed to drive should be considered qualified to drive strangers around, even on a “for hire” basis. (Whether they should be considered qualified to handle money is another matter, of course.)

      • Nathanael says

        Likewise, it’s already illegal to have uninspected cars on the road. So what sort of regulations are you really calling for? Perhaps you’re calling for enforcement of the existing regulations which are supposed to apply to all drivers, but which seem to be underenforced?

      • aw says

        “it’s already illegal to have uninspected cars on the road”

        That may be the case in NY, but here in Washington the only inspection required on personal cars is for emission testing, and then only for newer cars and in areas that have high levels of smog.

    • says

      Why does it have to be strictly regulated? What value would that regulation add?

      Uber and Lyft seem to work just fine. (I’ve never tried Sidecar.) Why fix something that doesn’t seem to be broken?

      • Sam says

        Mars, you do realize these are private, for-profit transportation companies, and it’s not just a friend giving another friend a ride, right? I’m not sure if you are joking or not. Are you really arguing for the deregulation of businesses that are in the transportation business?

      • William C. says

        I’m not Matt, but yes, I am. If you can’t point to a specific need for the regulations, let’s deregulate.

      • Alex Bailey says

        There are two reasons Sam that people don’t like this proposal.

        The first is that the proposal limits the supply of cab-like services in the city, which not only results in an inefficient market, but arguably has negative externalities as well. I suspect having better and cheaper cab-like services on the road will substantially reduce drunk driving, which is a big problem. And if we are really concerned about protecting the margins of cab drivers than do so by some sort of subsidy not onerous legislation.

        The second problem, as noted by Mars, is that there doesn’t seem to be a problem that needs fixing here. Historically, consumer and workplace regulations were put into place to fix real problems, such as rampant food borne illness or cars that were needlessly unsafe. While services like Lyft and Uber should probably be regulated more than they are now, as far as I can tell there haven’t been major safety concerns associated with the services. This is probably because ALL vehicles in this country have to meet certain safety standards, and ALL drivers in this country are expected to take reasonable measures to avoid accidents.

        If anything services like Uber and Lyft could be safer to use because drivers are rated by passengers, and reckless drivers will probably receive bad ratings. This definitely does not happen with cabs. I have been in cabs where the driver goes 20 or 30 mph over the speed limit among other reckless behaviors in order to get the most fares possible.

      • Bellinghammer says

        On Apple Cup day, nearly everyone I drove was knock-down drunk, and I kept all of those people off the road. And on Friday and Saturday nights, probably 2/3 of passengers are on their way to/from bars. Rideshare companies are joining with taxis to reduce or nearly eliminate drunk driving.

      • Nathanael says

        “you do realize these are private, for-profit transportation companies, and it’s not just a friend giving another friend a ride, right?”

        Q. What is the difference between a for-profit transportation company and a friend giving another friend a ride?
        A. Money.

        So regulations about money-handling seem appropriate. You don’t want people who have records of fraud or theft or embezzlement driving Lyft cars. Quite a number of regulations might be appropriate in that regard.

        But apart from money, there’s no difference. Any “safety” or “competence” regulation you can think of for a for-hire car driver should be applied to *all* drivers — and if it isn’t applied to all drivers then you have a serious safety problem on the roads, don’t you?

    • djw says

      Other than restricting competition, what is the plausible justifiable rationale for placing a limit on the number of cars well below what the market currently supports?

    • james says

      Why do they need to be heavily regulated? There’s ample transparency in the new breed of transportation companies.

      • RapidRider says

        But what happens when they decide NOT to be “transparent” any more? Seems like the cycle of regulating Wall Street.

      • William C. says

        Then we can regulate them then. Or, if you’d rather, we can pass a few carefully-worded regulations now to mandate transparency without binding them up in all sorts of needless red tape.

      • RapidRider says

        Honestly, that’s all that’s needed. Light regulation that keeps in place the self-regulation Uber and Lyft already do, to make sure they don’t suddenly decide to stop self-regulating.

        If Lyft and Uber have enough sway (which they do), they can make a stink in the media and for the council to sit down and hash out a plan going forward that doesn’t damn them to obsolescence.

      • ClaimsAdjuster says

        Lyft, Sidecar and UberX refuse to show their magic insurance to the city because it is “proprietary”. Is that the “transparency” to which you refer?

    • QueenAnner says

      Taxis and for hire vehicles are subject to annual vehicle inspections in order to keep their licenses, all paid for out of the drivers pocket. Does anyone know if these rideshare companies schedule annual follow up appointments with their drivers to make sure vehicles are in 100% safe and working condition after the initial on-boarding process?

      Also, how do they follow up on driving records after initial on-boarding? I know all driver applicants are subject to a driving record check before being approved as a driver, but what if they are involved in an incident after that?

      Keep in mind that rideshare services have been around for less than 2 years, less than even 1 year in Seattle. I think any vehicle hauling passengers for a commercial interest should be subject to regulation and inspection.

      • William C. says

        Now those two proposals sound like good, reasonable ideas – but they’re not what the city’s proposing.

  4. Zoe says

    I have not read the proposal but I do believe both these grey market services and the taxi industry need to be revamped. I think Bellinghammer makes many strong points.

    I do think it’s unfair competition since taxis pay a host of fees. I think it’s also worthwhile to note that many taxi drivers are recent immigrants and people of color while most of the grey market drivers are white. I hope can we include the grey market folks without putting the taxi drivers all out of business. To be Lyft driver I wonder if your type or car or appearance matters?

    As someone who takes cabs I think you, as someone who never takes them, are wrong. They are often easy to find (New Year’s Eve is a ridiculous example) and when you have three or four friends a short or moderate trip is often cheaper than a bike. Taxi drivers are certainly not making a fortune.

    • Bellinghammer says

      Yeah, taxis have gotten a raw deal from overregulation. With this new legislation, however, we should be freeing taxis to innovate and compete, not forcing rideshare companies to play by a failed model of ‘cap and trade’ for cars.

    • Alex says

      As mentioned in the thread above, regulations can be helpful to consumers and operators or hurtful to one or both. The Lyft model seems to work well with a broad, tech-based oversight. It’s really the Taxi industry that needs to be freed, especially to increase their supply. Look at the pick-up/drop-off restrictions that essentially force taxis to deadhead if they take people across city lines.

      • QueenAnner says

        There is an app called Flywheel that recently launched in Seattle – it is San Francisco based. It works with existing taxi and/or for-hire fleets to give rides dispatched through an app. The drivers are really excited about it too, and are very glad there is a tech company ready to help bring their industry into this new phase of transportation.

        It’s great to see that technology and innovation can integrate into Seattle’s transportation system while still following regulations in place to keep consumers safe. I’d suggest checking it out!

  5. Seattleite says

    These ‘recent immigrants and people of color’ taxi drivers wouldn’t happen to live in Harrell’s new district would they?

    • Bellinghammer says

      There’s nothing stopping recent immigrants and people of color from joining Lyft or Uber as drivers, and many of them in fact have. The one’s I’ve ridden with as a passenger, including a recent immigrant from Ethiopia who picked me up Downtown, generally rave about the ease of the service, the quality of the passengers, and the ability to choose what model car they can drive. Rideshare companies are a net gain for employment for immigrants too; the only ones who lose out are those that sunk costs into getting an artificially-scarce taxi medallion. I’d even support the city reimbursing those medallion fees as a retroactive apology for choking the market and inflating the price for years.

    • Lack Thereof says

      Some do, but most I run into live outside City Limits. By and large they can’t afford housing within Seattle.

  6. Robin says

    I’ve been driving for Lyft full time since May and I can honestly say that anyone that has ever used Lyft and Seattle’s taxi service would be outraged if they were to lose ridesharing as a transportation option.

    I keep hearing that ridesharing companies are unregulated and this is misleading. Since I’ve been driving for Lyft, I’ve met four women that have been sexually assaulted by taxi drivers in Seattle.

    Other horror stories are too numerous to list.
    Most commonly, taxi passengers, especially women, are berated with obscenities if they aren’t able to pay with cash. These passengers are intimidated into going to an ATM to get cash out to pay their fare and then they are often abandoned at the ATM after handing over cash. It is unlawful to demand cash for payment if your service takes credit card payments.

    Many female passengers have taxi drivers drop them off at least a block away from home so that the exact location of their residences remain unknown due to stalking incidents.

    It is no wonder that two thirds of our passengers are female.

    I’m not wanting to paint with too broad a brush in generalizing about cab drivers but there are more than a few bad apples.

    Lyft requires criminal and driving record checks and all interactions between drivers and passengers are rated by both drivers and passengers through the app. The passenger also sees a picture of the driver on their phone before the driver arrives. Lyft collects donation from the passenger via the passenger’s credit card pre-loaded in the app so that there is no need of currency exchange. Not carrying cash makes transportation safer for both driver and passenger.

    As for a lack of insurance, this is also not the case. If an accident occurs, Lyft carries insurance that covers propert damages and injuries. The only thing it doesn’t cover is damage to the Lyft driver’s vehicle.

    Zoe stated above that taxis are often easy to find. This is true if you are in town in a busy area. The difficulty is getting a cab to pick you up at home or any other place than outside a popular watering hole.

    We live in a progressive city, except where it comes to transportation. I’ve been hearing about Seattle’s traffic woes and the need for solutions since 1974. We need as many solutions as we can get to Seattle’s transportation problems.

    When the computer was introduced manufacturers of typewriters either had to start making computers or get out if the way. Can you imagine if we were still using typewriters to conduct business? Let’s not stand in the way of change. We’ll look ridiculous as a community as we watch our peer cities make room for ridesharing after we’ve given ridesharing the boot. Also, how will cab companies conduct themselves when they’ve receive a confidence vote that tells them “keep up the good work?” This would be an invitation for even worse treatment of passengers in what is supposed to be a customer service industry.

    • Chris Van Dyk says

      “As for a lack of insurance, this is also not the case. If an accident occurs, Lyft carries insurance that covers propert damages and injuries. The only thing it doesn’t cover is damage to the Lyft driver’s vehicle.”

      Ask them to show you the policy. They won’t because it don’t exist. If they show you a Certificate of Insurance, such as was filed before the California Public Utilities Commision, ask to see and read the underlying policy. It does not cover you, it covers Lyft.

      Customer service starts with the absence of consumer fraud.

  7. Mark Dublin says

    In 1935, Clifford Odets wrote a play called “Waiting for Lefty”, which ends with unionized cab drivers storming out on strike with the news that their admired leader Lefty Costello has just been found shot and killed in an alley. Funny-nobody at all thinks a passenger did it.

    Not to over-nostalgize a time when transportation workers could relate to that assumption. But wouldn’t mind a future when taxicab and related transportation-driving would be a field for well-trained, well-paid, organized professionals with normal work hours, good health care, and pensions.

    And willing and able to fight for those things- whether driving a taxicab, a line-haul bus or train, or a sedan with a pink mustache on it.

    Mark Dublin

    • says

      Why should people be so well paid for a low skill job? This is crazy? These are entry level jobs or near so. Markets should dictate pay and government should minimally regulate for public safety.

      • Mark Dublin says

        Suggestion, Rob: Drive a cab for a month. Results for you will only be good. One, you’ll gain experience that might let you make a living if the economy turns bad for you. First shift will definitely straighten you out about amount of knowledge, skill and stamina the trade requires.

        Markets? The ones for meat and fish carry excellent lessons. Necessary, beneficial…but from the beginning of trade itself, people under every governmental setup fast come to realize the need for supervision backed by serious authority.

        Kosher laws, and Halal laws, which are the same thing, weren’t part of a War on Ham and Shellfish. “Shall surely die” was an accurate assessment of observed results in a hot climate.

        Whether it’s mackerel or mutual funds, it’s not a good idea for a market to go unregulated to the point where problem is detectable by smell. By then, many people have gone beyond getting grossed out.

        But for political discussion, key question about any market is: Are you the creature hanging on the hook? Predating humanity by eons, those animals, birds, and fish had skills too.

        Mark

  8. Stephen says

    I would love to hear a rational explanation why artificially limiting the supply makes things safer.

    I understand why making drivers take a safety test and pass a background check make sense — these seem sensible, and assuming they aren’t arbitrarily expensive (or take a stupid period of time to schedule/get) then it shouldn’t have any real impact on the success of rideshare programs in the area.

    Arbitrary caps, on the other hand, seem like obvious pandering to existing cab companies.

    • Lack Thereof says

      Limiting supply does not maintain safety. It is supposed to enforce a basic level of profitability that keeps hailable taxicabs on the roads and available to pedestrians. It’s also supposed to make sure they’re profitable enough that they aren’t tempted to cut corners on safety and service (lol).

      That argument (already shaky) doesn’t seem to apply to for-hire cars. There’s no reason to cap for-hire licenses. And that’s why we have both types of licenses.

  9. Marta Hoskinson says

    I am in partnership with Lyft and Uber x I have 28 years of professional driving experience and hold a commercial driviers license. I enjoy driving and providing a wonderful service to Seattle. I have been driving for about 4 months and have only had good experiences. Also it helps me thrive!!!

  10. says

    Calling this proposal in favor of taxi companies is an understatement. This is clearly a selfish way to increase taxi usage, by forcing alternatives to essentially not exist. It’s just as if fast food companies passed a law in Seattle that grocery stores cannot sell more than 100 pounds of food per day, so more people will eat out.

    • Mike Orr says

      Except that would it really increase taxi usage? These services have only been around for a few years; it should be easy to tell whether taxi usage went down and whether it’s likely to go up. I haven’t heard that taxis have been losing significant business. I suspect many of these Lyft/Sidecar users wouldn’t dream of hiring a $3/mile taxi ride in the first place. I have only been in a taxi four or five times in the past twenty years, and that’s only been when I’ve been in a strange city or I’m with people who insist on taking a taxi. (But I don’t use Lyft/Sidcar either, BTW.)

      • Aleks says

        Before we had Uber, I would occasionally take taxis, for trips that were time-sensitive and/or extremely difficult to perform by transit. For example, I would take a taxi to get home from the airport at 1AM on a Sunday, or to get to an 8 AM doctor’s appointment in First Hill from my home in Fremont.

        Then Uber came along, and I started taking Uber much more frequently. I’d use it for trips where a bus would have worked fine, but I didn’t want to wait out in the cold, or if I was tired at night and wanted to get home.

        Then UberX came along. It didn’t really change my habits that much; I just started taking UberX instead of Uber.

        If UberX goes away, then I’ll just switch back to Uber. If Uber goes away completely, I’ll probably just take the bus.

  11. asdf says

    The is a perfect example of the principle “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The ridesharing systems are working fine and there is no need to suddenly start regulating them out of business. Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber have been operating in several cities now, and I haven’t heard about any dangerous incidents or kidnappings in such systems anywhere.

    I also find it completely ridiculous that people have given others rides in their cars for the past hundred years, ever since there were cars. Any law that says providing a service to friends for free is ok, but providing that same service to paying customers requires following a byzantine network of regulations, should be viewed as extremely suspect.

    I also don’t buy the argument that this is going to put regular taxis out of business. If taxis are over-regulated, that’s an easily solvable problem. And, it should also be noted that regular taxi and for-hire services can sometimes provide superior service over the ridesharing companies depending on when and where you want to be picked up. Most of the taxi rides I have taken over the years have been between the hours of 4-7 AM on a weekend, when Lyft is closed, virtually all Sidecar and Uber drivers are asleep, yet taxi drivers tend to be available relatively promptly. A couple months ago, when I had a 6 AM flight to catch, I chose Flat Rate for Hire over the rideshare services and will very likely do so again next time. I have also generally found that if you want a ride from a suburban area (e.g. Redmond, Lynnwood), rather than the Seattle core, Sidecar and Uber tend to have relatively long wait times, while Lyft isn’t available at all. While the response times of taxis in those positions may not be super-great, it still tends to beat the competition.

    Ultimately, it’s not a question of do we need taxis or do we need Lyft – the answer is we need both. We also need government to get out of the way and let the free market work. Taxi companies have long used their near-monopoly status to become lazy, and a little bit of pressure to innovate from competition would go a long way. I find it absolutely crazy that in 2013, the biggest taxi company in the Puget Sound area, Yellow Cab, still requires you to wait on hold and talk to a human dispatcher to book a ride. I’m not saying the human dispatcher should go away completely (although, long-term, once everyone gets smartphones, it probably should), but if the company cared an iota about attracting customers to their service, a smartphone app to book rides should be a no-brainer. The fact that there isn’t one says that Yellow Cab considers themselves to be a lazy monopoly that doesn’t have to put forth any effort to earn customers. This is a perfect example of why we need competition.

    • Norah says

      Yellow Cab actually does have an Android app now. It’s pretty recent. I haven’t used it yet so I’m not sure how well it works, and I’m not sure if they have an iPhone app yet.

    • Lack Thereof says

      A lot of the taxi companies are starting to use the Flywheel service, rather than setting up their own online dispatch. I have seen several Yellow Cabs (and almost all Orange Cabs) wearing the Flywheel bumperstickers.

  12. RossB says

    If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, its a duck.

    I don’t think you should limit the number of drivers. If this is truly a ride share program, then there is no reason to limit the number of drivers. We don’t limit the number of drivers who can drive in a carpool lane. That is just wrong.

    But it makes sense to limit the number of hours that someone can get paid to drive. If you are driving over twenty hours a week, that is your main job. You are a taxi driver. You are not “ride sharing”. As such, you should be regulated like every other taxi driver in this city.

    If you want to take about changing the taxi regulations in this city, then do so. There are a lot of different taxi companies in this city — some good, some bad. If these companies want to compete, then should follow the same rules. If the rules need to be changed to encourage more competition, that sounds good too. But to say that some new company can step in and skirt the regulations because they put funny things on their car or have a better web site (or app) or some other clever schtick is ridiculous.

    • asdf says

      And why should someone working 30 hours a week be more tightly regulated than someone working 10 hours a week? As long no one is working so many hours a week that they are driving sleep-deprived (and thereby endangering the public), I say, who cares? It should be up to the individual drivers and not bureaucracy to dictate how many hours a week they choose to work.

      • William C. says

        So in other words, you’re lobbying to deregulate the taxis? I agree! There should be some taxi company constrained to service all comers, but that can be merged with Metro Access and spun off as a social service.

      • asdf says

        Traditionally, one of the justifications for tightly regulating the taxi industry was to prevent taxi companies from cherry-picking the most profitable trips (e.g. downtown to airport) and guarantee that service would be available at all hours of the day in all corners of the city. Essentially, the way this works is that the city strikes a deal with a taxi company in which they agree to provide service under a bunch of rules (city-mandated prices, must serve the entire area, cannot refuse passengers, etc.). In return, the city sets the mandated price to be something well above the market rate for most trips, while protecting the company providing the services from competition so that these inflated rates do not get undercut. Essentially, it’s a model where people going from downtown to the airport are asked to pay hyper-inflated prices to subsidize people going from Fall City to North Bend.

        With a free market, such regulations should not be necessary to maintain universal service. In fact, I would argue that with proper deregulation, universal service should arise from market forces alone. Basically, when all the supply caps are lifted, drivers will, at first, gravitate towards the most profitable markets (downtown, airport, Capitol Hill, Belltown, etc.). However, once enough drivers enter the market, the market in the most profitable areas will become saturated, that is, competition in the urban core will drive prices down to the point where it is just as profitable to branch outward and look for customers in a more suburban area. Yes, there are fewer passengers traveling out there, but with fewer drivers in the area, the wait time to pick up a passenger might not be that much longer, and with less competition, the fares you would be able to charge for a trip of the same length would be higher. For trips in the extreme edge of the civilization (e.g. Fall City to North Bend), the fare would simply have to be set high enough to make it worth a driver’s while to deadhead to and from the nearest actual population center (e.g. Issaquah, Bellevue, etc.) in order to make the trip. In other words, with a free market, a trip from Fall City to North Bend might cost 3-4 times as much as a trip of similar length from downtown Seattle to Northgate, but, at the right price, such trips would still be possible, and, at the end of the day, it is better to have the ability to pay enough money to make a driver actually willing to show up than to have a city-mandated price that is too low to be worth any driver’s while, causing you to wait, and wait, and wait, and get nothing.

        One thing that is extremely important for free-market pricing to work, though, is up-front, accurate consumer information. Being driven around and having the driver then name a price out of a hat is not up-front, accurate consumer information. What is up-front accurate consumer information is being able to punch in the origin and destination points on a mobile phone, getting back binding quotes from several interested drivers, and choosing the one you want based on who is offering the best combination of price and wait time. Once the driver comes to pick you up, the payment for the trip, whatever it is, has already been determined.

        In the long run, with proper deregulation, I envision taxi and taxi-like services evolving into a form of online “ride” marketplace. From the customer’s perspective, things would look very much like Lyft/Sidecar/Uber today – you punch in your origin and destination point on your phone, get a binding quote, click “accept”, and the phone shows the real-time location of your ride, along with a continuously updated estimated wait time.

        From the driver’s perspective, automated software would handle the nitty-gritty details of choosing which rides are likely to be most profitable for the driver, and calculating a fair price that is high enough to be worth the driver’s while, let low enough to be competitive with other drivers. If done properly, driving for such a system would be not much different from driving for Lyft/Sidecar/Uber today.

        Ideally, this ride-sharing marketplace would be so drop-dead easy to use as a driver that ordinary people would plug into the system as they drive their day-to-day trips, looking for ways to make a few extra bucks when a ride happens to come along that is sufficiently convenient. In other words, people picking up a friend at the airport would make some side money taking someone else to the airport on the way. Commute trips to work would pick up co-workers along the way who are willing to chip in for gas. Etc. Simply deregulating the market for professional drivers will reduce prices some, but getting regular people in the ridesharing market, making money off empty seats as they drive to places they would be driving to anyway – that is when prices will truly plummet. Prices may even fall enough to make it impossible to make a reasonable living as a taxi driver, except when special “niche” services are involved (e.g. service to extremely remote areas, wheelchair accessibility, etc.). But, I contend that this is ok – it would be no different from envelope stuffers, parking attendants, and numerous other jobs that modern technology has rendered obsolete.

        And, finally, of course, it is a matter of time before taxis go driverless, which should eventually lead to yet more drops in prices.

      • RossB says

        If you want to talk about changing the taxi regulations (or even deregulating them) then by all means, go for it. Share your proposal. But in this case, these companies claim they are not taxi companies, but ride sharing companies.

        I like the idea of ride sharing. It makes perfect sense. I can see how it could be a great system. This is very common in college campuses. People used to put up notices on bulletin boards asking to share a ride to another city (e. g. Bellingham to Seattle). I’m sure they still do (although with some sort of modern system). This could work great for a city like Seattle. Just the other day I drove from the north end of Seattle to a rural part of Pierce county. I could have ridden buses, but it would have take half the day. I would have gladly shared the ride with someone there or back.

        But if you are driving people back and forth around town all day, then you aren’t “sharing a ride”, you are a private driver. In this case, these “car sharing” services are simply taxis. You have to draw the line somewhere to differentiate between someone who is actually sharing the ride (that is, they would drive there, or someplace very close anyway) versus someone who is simply driving people to various places around town (AKA a cab driver). Twenty hours is a reasonable limit – any more than that and it should be obvious that your really aren’t sharing a ride, but you are driving a cab. You should be regulated the same way as any other taxi.

  13. Fnarf says

    There’s a reason that taxis are regulated. You should see what’s going on with Uber in Los Angeles, and New York where riders are being whacked with insane “surge pricing” that drives the cost of an already ridiculously overpriced 10-mile ride to $375 or more. And other riders have had their drivers try to extort $$$ for left-behind wallets and phones. The Objectivist paradise of unregulated car fares is not attractive to me, thanks.

    • asdf says

      See my previous post. As long as the customer knows that the 10-mile ride is going to cost $375 in advance and approves it before he/she is committed, and has full and accurate information of other options for the same trip, and the price of $375 is really a market price, with multiple drivers competing against each other to offer the lowest price, and the passenger doesn’t get extorted for any additional money once he/she is actually being driven, I say, fine. If $375 is really the market clearing price, a mandated rate of less than that means a few lucky people get discounts, while everyone else gets no rides at all.

      Practically speaking, though, if the market-clearing price were really that high, you would have swarms of drivers going online to cash in and, guess what – after a few minutes, the price would drop, and drop, and drop some more, until it is no longer worth it for any more drivers to log in. By this point, the price would be back to something in the neighborhood of the $20-40 or so we are already paying for taxi-like services for such a trip. The key to making this work is not regulation, but de-regulation. You have to have enough people registered as drivers to make it possible for enough drivers to jump in in order to meaningfully reduce the price.

  14. Damon says

    The City council is taking the same approach it has taken historically. The city is consistently behind the curve in meeting the demands of a growing metropolis. I have been a resident of the Seattle proper for more than 27 years. I have watched as the city has grown exponentially but lagged behind in developing adequate transportation alternatives to meet the growing demand. If you need further examples, just look at where we are in providing mass transit options. You can’t even get north and south easily at certain times of the day or night much less east to west. This is just another example of the cities inability to recognize that demand is growing and the current transportation alternatives do not meet the demand. The city dilly dallied for decades before it began the light rail option and that still is years away from being a viable late night off commuter hour option. If the city council is responsible for public safety and intoxicated driving is at record levels, then providing more transportation alternatives would be keeping with their responsibility. Limiting the services of TNC’s is not the solution.

    The city commissioned a study that has clearly shown the council that the service that taxis have been providing needs better regulation and service overhauls. There has been public outcry for years, but nothing in this conversation addresses that!
    Public safety huh?! Cab drivers are being assaulted and even murdered, passengers are being harassed and assaulted by drivers, and let’s not mention the illegal pillaging of fares from passengers. I could swallow their argument if it also addressed what taxi cab passengers have been reporting time and time again with no real remedy; better enforcement of the service and safety of the taxi services!
    It is clear Councilman Harrell and new mayor elect Murray have caved to lobbying pressure rather than truly addressing the needs of the community they have been elected to serve. In the end Seattle will again be behind the curve if this proposal isn’t revised. Innovation is ringing the doorbell. Answer the door!

  15. Lack Thereof says

    “Rideshare” services like Lyft, UberX, and Sidecar are for-hire car services. The fact that they are not classified as such by the city/county is a clear indication that the rules regarding for-hire cars are in need of a serious overhaul.

    And if uberX/Lyft drivers have difficulty obtaining for-hire licenses, that’s another indication that the rules need an update.

    • Urban Villager says

      Agreed. The use of the term “rideshare” in this posting’s heading is incorrect. Ridesharing as defined in the profession of transportation demand management is carpooling or vanpooling in which drivers have a destination they need to get to and are taking others along who also need to get there or somewhere along the way. There are criteria that apply for a situation to be true ridesharing – the driver being headed to the location anyway and , and not being paid for their services, although payments can be made to drivers to help share in the costs of the trip. There are companies that offer true ridesharing platforms that run through mobile applications, such as Carma (www.car.ma). With these platforms, as I understand it, drivers do undergo background checks and payments are automated; however, drivers to not earn wages/salary for their services but just receive payment to shere in the cost of the trip. The services matches up drivers and riders going to common destinations through mobile apps. These true ridesharing services provide another transportation option and should not be regulated like for-hire or taxi services. I don’t believe the concept has taken hold in Seattle but there are other locations where it has, and it is likely coming in the future.

    • RossB says

      I agree. There is a strong case to be made that we need to change the taxi regulations in this area.

      But if someone drives a car around all day picking up passengers and dropping them off, they aren’t “ride sharing” — they are a cab driver. The fact that these companies can’t break into the market as taxi companies suggests that there is a need for for regulation overhaul.

  16. Moderate Man says

    It is heartening to see that some Seattleites still believe in the free market; maybe the Socialists won’t win all 9 council seats next time? ;)

  17. Brent says

    The council needs clarity on the purpose of regulating cab companies and for-hire-driver companies, and charging them fees. Is it to ensure safe operation that is fair to all customers, or is it to limit supply of available cabs and for-hire drivers? If it is the latter, the number of available licenses has been set too low (or they wouldn’t have to be regulating rates charged so tightly).

    But if anyone can sign up and become an “employee” of a for-hire driver company, and start providing transportation services, the safety and training aspect has been missed. I understand the case for more for-hire drivers, but the city is well within its rights and responsibilities to say individual drivers like Bellinghammer need to have certain certifications before they can drive paying customers.

    • Lack Thereof says

      The safety/training requirements proposed bring it more in line with For-Hire cars, especially making full-time drivers get for-hire licenses. However, the 100 car per provider limit might be a mistake. How many cars does Lyft have on the road today in Seattle? UberX?

  18. ClaimsAdjuster says

    Lyft, Sidecar, and UberX are dispatching private cars to pick up passengers. Most of these vehicles carry non-commercial insurance which excludes coverage for taxi operations. The drivers hide their business activities from their insurer because they know that their policies could be cancelled and any claims that they submit could be denied. This is insurance fraud and is at the heart of this “ridesharing” scam.

  19. says

    The limit on the licenses are necessary for many reasons. For one, you can’t compare it to the traditional business that leases or owns a building. It’s more like a street vendor, a food truck etc. At some point, the urban area becomes over-run, and beyond becoming a hassle, the revenue declines, the quality declines. As it is now, on any given weeknight, including rideshares, there is not a whole lot of business. These corporations want free will to add thousands of unregulated vehicles to our already crowded streets, and crowded industry. The city’s recent study proved, shortage is only during peak which accounts for a very small percentage of a drivers shift. This can be easily remedied by the amount of vehicles already licensed. Another thing a lot of readers here are missing, these are simply [epithet]. Sure, some prefer the quality, but they’re illegal. There are avenues to go down to set up shop. Plain and simple. Flywheel is one app that is doing an excellent job of working within the infrastructure to rejuvenate our LOCAL infrastructure. To call these multi million dollar corporations who absolutely want to crush local innovation, “underdogs” is a little insane in my opinion. The logical thing to do here is support local innovation, not corporate bullying.

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