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, 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. 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.
 The driver tried to get me to pay for the distance up to that point, if you can imagine that.
 Surely, another sign of a broken regulatory scheme.