Although the City Council’s final compromise wasn’t quite everything car-free living advocates might have wanted, the legislation as a whole could be a positive event for Seattle. It’s positive if it’s the first, rather than the last, step in the evolution of how Seattle pays for car rides.
Anna Minard provided the most concise summary of what the bill does:
• Rideshare companies—that’s uberX, Lyft, and Sidecar, which are being referred to as “Transportation Network Companies”—must abide by a rule that no more than 150 drivers can be active on their system, ready to pick up passengers, at a time. Given that Uber last week revealed they currently have about 900 drivers and “regularly exceed” 300 drivers on system at a time, that could really change their service.
• Allows for-hire drivers to pick up street hails but not passengers from taxi stands. (Until now, they’ve been barred from picking up people hailing cabs on the street and limited to only picking up prearranged passengers.)
• Adds 200 new taxi licenses over the next two years.
• Adds new insurance and safety regulations to the app-based services, while also trying to block TNCs from working around the driver caps by creating multiple shadow companies. It also gives the city council authority to remove the cap on the number of drivers in the future, instead of leaving it to city regulators.
For users of everything other than the TNCs, this is an unmitigated good thing. On-demand car travel becomes much easier with for-hire drivers available for immediate use and more taxis.
The impact on TNC users is mixed. The old situation is an unregulated gray area with few rider protections. The bill creates those protections, while forcing a de facto decrease in the supply of drivers. The latter is bad for consumers, but I can appreciate the Council’s position. It makes no sense to destroy the taxi industry with onerous regulation while allowing a competitor to operate without limitations. A superior solution for consumers would be to lift taxi caps too, but the conservative thing to do is to ease the taxi caps and for-hire restrictions while hobbling the TNCs enough to give their competitors some breathing room.*
That’s all fine as an intermediate step. The ultimate policy objective should be to phase out arbitrary caps on all sorts of driver services. A city where it’s easy to get a ride when you need one is a city where not owning a car is a very attractive option, which will boost transit ridership and decrease the crippling weight of parking pressure on our land use. That’s what the three anti-cap Councilmembers (Burgess, Bagshaw, and Rasmussen) seemed to understand, and I applaud them for their vision.
*One can certainly quibble with the level of the cap, but then the TNCs were notoriously secretive about their driver numbers until the last moment.