Yesterday, the full City Council attended what was originally intended to be the final meeting of the Taxi/For-Hire/Limousine Regulations committee. Before another packed house, and with only a brief window for public comment this time around, the council discussed detailed amendments to the working proposal. They took votes on some issues, deferred others, and showed that the normally consensus-craving council is divided on the issue of TNC market caps.
The full video above is exceptional for those interested in wading into the weeds. Public comment was substantive, on-point, and emotionally charged, with opinions hardened and clarified on both sides. The council moved through a series of amendments that generally moved in the pro-TNC direction.
Here’s where things stand:
Insurance: The council fully agrees on requiring that drivers be covered whenever ‘active’ on a system, including in between rides. O’Brien offered an amendment looking for ways to lower insurance costs for commercial drivers but the council ran out of time before discussing it.
Hourly Caps: The Council passed an amendment removing the requirement that limited TNC drivers to 16 hours per week. TNC drivers will be able to work full-time, but will retain daily limits and mandatory time off between shifts.
Pilot Program Review: CM Burgess introduced and passed revised language relating to the data collection at the end of the 2-year pilot. In short, the review of the program will now include an expanded series of performance metrics, such as average dispatch time for taxis and TNCs, % and location of rejected rides, and much more. The intent seemed to be to get a better handle on the relative service quality offered by the different options.
Training: Councilmember Clark introduced and passed an amendment removing a separate permit layer and separate training requirements for TNC drivers. Instead, all training will be harmonized between taxi/for-hire/TNC drivers, the curriculum will be updated, and emphasis will be on safety. Trainings will be flexible to focus on some issues and minimize others depending upon the audience (i.e. Cash-free Lyft drivers wouldn’t have to be trained on cash-handling)
Market Caps: This was the meat of the debate, and was the only portion of the regulations not to be voted upon. Weeks ago the committee proposed a cap of 100 drivers per company, which was then revised by CM O’Brien to 300 total TNC driver permits which would be portable between TNCs. At this meeting two additional amendments were offered. Likely recognizing pushback from the community on the caps issue, CM Clark offered to double O’Brien’s portable TNC permits from 300 to 600, with Clark arguing that a 2-year cap would ease the way for a likely “capless future.” Bagshaw proposed removing market caps entirely, arguing that a denser, growing Seattle can absorb the new supply, and that in the context of transit cuts that Seattle needs more options. Rasmussen seconded Bagshaw’s call for removing caps, though he proposed that the Council retain authority to impose caps if the market becomes too saturated (a cap-as-you-go approach).
O’Brien and Harrell defended the original cap of 300, making immigrant rights and social justice arguments while sharply criticizing TNCs for flouting the law. O’Brien held that industry support for TNCs was hypocritical (“Would the hotel association support an unregulated AirBnB? Would the restaurant association be ok with unregulated food trucks?”)
Burgess, Licata, Sawant, and Godden stayed largely silent. Sawant criticized the lack of mass transit in the city and proposed eventually having a publicly-owned and unionized TNC company. She supported market caps, saying that it was the taxi driver “Davids” against the “Goldman-Sachs-Jeff-Bezos” Goliaths.
Burgess responded later in the day with a long and substantive blog post defending an approach that caps the market for street hails but leaves the dispatch market unregulated. However, he also said he would support Clark’s limit of 600 if a majority wants caps in some form.
In sum, currently a majority supports caps (Clark, O’Brien, Harrell, Sawant, and Godden), 3 members oppose caps (Bagshaw, Rassmussen, and Burgess), and Licata is undeclared.
The final committee vote on this issue will be on February 27 from 4-6pm. It will then proceed to the full council.