In response to Seattle’s new law on taxi-like services — formally legalizing them, placing limits on vehicle numbers, and creating new insurance and safety requirements — The Seattle Times reports Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) are funding a referendum ($) to repeal the law, under the name “Keep Seattle’s Ride Options.”

[The campaign must] collect at least 16,510 signatures by the end of Thursday [April 17th], the day before the regulations are to take effect… If enough signatures are gathered, the city would be immediately blocked from enforcing the new rules and couldn’t enact them unless voters reject the referendum.

It is not yet certain if the rules are even subject to referendum. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, part of the (correct) Council minority who wanted the safety requirements without the camps, told me unequivocally that he does not support the referendum because “it is important to retain the safety and insurance regulations which the referendum would repeal.”

There was no serious debate about the safety rules, which are there to protect consumers and move to regulatory parity with the taxi industry. The Council has given every indication of being open-minded about revisiting the problematic caps next year. I have more faith in them than a group of companies that are evidently seeking to avoid oversight altogether.

On the other hand, Initiative 111 is focused on repealing the caps, reducing the $50,000 registration fee to $500, and tweaking some of those safety rules. For what it’s worth, that effort is led by Elizabeth Campbell, who has been associated with very problematic initiatives in the past. Initiative 111 wouldn’t delay enforcement of the existing statute in the meantime. But are the tweaks to those regulations a cause for concern?

Tom Rasmussen says he hasn’t “read the language in Initiative 111 and because of that I can’t say that I support it,” but he “would support an initiative that repeals the driver cap but retains effective safety and insurance regulations.”  An Uber representative says they’re “not supporting” I-111, preferring the referendum because “we want to give Seattle a chance to get this right.”

45 Replies to “Ride Services Measures Collecting Signatures”

  1. Has anyone else noticed that in every picture of an Uber car that lurid pink-purple moustache is cock-eyed? Every time it tilts to the left or right. Yes, I know, “How lame to complain about that!”

    Fine, but “How lame to do it!” too.

  2. Any word on the success of either of these referenda to even get on the ballot? I want to sign both, but can’t find out how.

    1. I would discourage you from signing the referendum, but I would suggest clicking the links to contact either campaign.

      1. Either one? I understand your case against the uber referendum, but what about Campbell’s? I can’t see much to your case there other than the fact that it was written by Campbell.

    1. I would urge everyone NOT to sign the referendum, and if it makes it to the ballot, to vote to uphold the law as passed (far-from-perfect though that law may be). The referendum throws out the baby with the bathwater. It makes the rideshare services illegal again, and removes all the public safety requirements (ya know, having company-paid-for liability insurance and proper training and certification). If Uber follows this approach, they will lose their credibility when they claim to be concerned about public safety. It looks like a greedy effort to get out from under the insurance and training requirements, under the guise of lifting the caps, from where I am standing.

      If they simply want to lift the caps, they can file an initiative making that change to the existing law.

  3. If the referendum passes the rideshare companies would go back to being completely illegal, right? This seems like a -very- double-edged sword to me.

    1. Indeed. If voters vote No on the referendum and the new rules are rejected, a possible outcome would be for the City to simply start enforcing current laws and crack down on the Uber and Lyft scofflaws. For the TNCs, a case of Be Careful What You Wish For.

      1. Politically, that seems very unlikely – if the referendum passes, this would run directly afoul of the wishes of the majority of voters.

      2. Nope. Rejecting the existing law would be a rejection of the existing law — the one that made rideshare services legal. If it is intended to loosen the laws, having the referendum be successful does just the opposite. I suppose a lot of old-time cabbies will vote to overturn the law just to make the rideshare services illegal again.

        Are we sure Elizabeth Campbell is on the side of the rideshare services? If she is, she is doing far more harm to their cause than if she were sitting at home doing nothing. It isn’t just creating confusion. It is putting something on the ballot that has the exact opposite effect of what I think she is trying to do. (But has anyone asked her?)

        Ms. Campbell, if you are trying to help the rideshare drivers, then shut down the poorly-thought-out referendum, and help them with Initiative 111.

      3. Ooops. I got it mixed up. So, Elizabeth Campbell is leading the initiative campaign. I hope it was a group effort, and not just one person’s attempt to write a better law than the city council.

        The referendum was filed by Heather Clarke. My assessment of the referendum as being counterproductive stands, unless it is the cab industry sponsoring it to create competiting measures and confusion. Since Uber is supporting it, then it isn’t sponsored by the cab industry, or Uber doesn’t understand the legal effect of a referendum. I would have though there are people at Uber who would understand why rolling back the law, in its entirety, is a very, very bad idea.

    2. The question is whether our [ad hom] Mayor will enforce the laws. The TNCs have been operating in violation of city and state law for over a year. It is amazing how big money gets special treatment.

  4. I signed the petition at the Ballard market on Sunday and also saw petitioners later on at the Freemont market (they actually had a line of people waiting to sign).

    “There was no serious debate about the safety rules, which are there to protect consumers and move to regulatory parity with the taxi industry. ”

    The last thing I want as a customer is for Uber drivers to abide by the same “safety” rules as the taxi industry. I would actually like to know what “safety” rules currently exist for Seattle cabs as the drivers I have had fail at complying with basic traffic laws and don’t seem to be concerned with car maintenance.

    1. The safety rules are more along the lines of being required to carry the proper insurance. So that if the Uber you are riding in gets hit and you get hurt, you dont have to pay for your own medical bills. Little details. :)

    2. Due to keep appointments that transit was much too slow to get me to, have ridden Orange Cabs twice. The drivers were both Africans with ambitions beyond their present jobs- and excellent drivers.

      With no overriding official supervision, and more important, training, I’m surprised the industry works as well as it does. I’ve said before that I think the cabs should be part of the public transit system and unionized.

      But until then, for the good of the reputation of drivers as good as my last two, the industry itself, and its employees should work out a system to insure its own quality.

      As for the TNC’s, can anyone, starting with City Council members, explain to me why it’s necessary to limit the number of cars? It seems to me, the expense involved in running any car according to reasonable rules is enough to regulate their proliferation.

      There is one problem that needs more discussion, the Crash of 2008 should tell us that unregulated capitalism is notorious for booms and busts. This year, huge number of people want to participate, so the streets are furry with mustaches, and TNC’s with a shave.

      Next year, or month, nobody can make a living being Uber (sounds like a German army rank) or Lyft. Suddenly, no service at all. Only benefit will be very low price for cars, do to huge inventory. Not good for transit. Or for motorists with cheap cars and no steets clear enough for driving.

      How do we deal with inevitable problem with the business cycle itself?

      Mark Dublin

  5. If the insurance regulations are repealed I fully support insurance stings against so-called rideshare drivers (really, part-time distributed for-hire drivers). That is, the cops call for a ride, then when the driver gets there they check the driver had sufficient insurance for the drive to the pick-up, which is an “insurance gap” that exists for many rideshare drivers today as their personal coverage rightly considers this commercial driving but the TNCs’ coverage doesn’t kick in until the passenger is in the car. The requirement that drivers carry basic liability insurance is the only thing that allows many to be financially responsible for any damage they cause, and this responsibility is at the core of our laws regarding driving.

    I support the abstract idea of TNCs but the early providers have flat-out ignored very serious and fundamental responsibilities they have to society. It is an utter travesty they haven’t been sued for this — not enough to destroy them, but enough to hold them accountable.

    1. Al Dimond: Agreed 100%. Ridesharing is an important tool that cities should have in the toolbox. It needs to be regulated the right way. The Wild West model the existing TNCs want is not going to cut it. Caps are dumb (at least for non-street-hailable cars), but insurance requirements with teeth are essential.

    2. “the early providers have flat-out ignored very serious and fundamental responsibilities”

      Well, duh! They’re libertarian “makers” out to fleece, um, er, “fix” society.

  6. The insurance problem is legitimate, and it’s unfortunate that the referendum would repeal the city bill wholesale. But I’m convinced that the near-universal popularity of these services ensures both that adequate signatures will be collected and that the referendum will pass by a large margin. If that’s the case, then the conversation needs to shift to a state-level discussion involving the insurance commission. Nobody is well-served by having Seattle and Bellevue regulate these differently. Just look at Minneapolis, where drivers face ticketing and arrest, while a few miles east in St Paul they are welcomed with open arms.

    The insurance gap has been plugged for the most part. Lyft now covers drivers in between rides, provides collision coverage for drivers who have collision on their personal insurance, and provides uninsured/underinsured motorist protection. The two remaining unresolved insurance issues are big ones: that drivers will almost surely be dropped by their personal insurance if they admit they are driving commercially, and secondly that no commercial insurance products exist that reflect the ad-hoc nature of TNC driving. The commercial insurance system incentivizes full-time drivers, which leads to flat supply and the inability to meet peak demand, the very thing TNCs do so damn well. Just as per-mile insurance should exist for personal driving, limited commercial insurance should be available on a per-mile rate (or a group rate through TNCs) with explicit recognition that the driver is covered by the TNC and that while the personal policy may not apply, the insured will not be dropped by his/her insurer.

    1. You know whose responsibility it is to negotiate acceptable coverage arrangements before people get injured by drivers and are screwed by insurance gaps? The companies responsible, of course!

      These companies like to pretend they’re “little guy” mobile-app entrepreneurs, but they’re basically going at this with Silicon Valley venture capital. There are lots of areas where I’d say, “Go ahead, do something and see what happens,” in a less serious area of law, but auto insurance underpins the fundamental responsibility of drivers for liability incurred on the road. We don’t even want true “little guys” (people struggling to make ends meet) breaking these laws, but we have sympathy for them as they often don’t have very good options. This sort of sympathy simply doesn’t apply to TNCs or their Valley capitalist backers. They have a responsibility to society.

      It’s a good thing that the drivers face ticketing and arrest in Minneapolis. It would be better if the companies faced fines, but it’s good that drivers are being punished for violating the law because that’s apparently the only thing that can get the companies to follow it.

  7. Metro should write it’s own ridesharing app (Sign up for an Amazon Cloud back end).

    Then, let all the bus drivers who want to make overtime work as car sharing drivers, but also as licensed Metro employees,

    Add in the people who have Metro carpool vehicles, and let them use DART vans as well for larger parties.

    1. Go to Nairobi, or, I suspect, many other cities in the world. Streets can be lively- as well as deadly. No lack or service. Just stand, or don’t anywhere and vehicles often crash into each other trying to make you their passenger- including dragging you aboard.

      Vehicles always have great names, like Blazing Angel of Death-which are also trade-names for the gangsters who command all this free enterprise.

      Well, could lift the grey and do in the passive-aggresivity that plagues this place. Too bad locals here think “Walking down the road with a ratchet in your waist” means Johnny just been to True Value Hardware, and “I had to leave a little girl in Kingston Town means she just missed a Washington State ferry to Edmonds.

      Tell you what, John: do a year’s test in Bellevue.


      1. Hey, eveybody:


        Of the whole population, best professional experience is still cab driving. Younger general population might also be decent, well-inclined and careful. But they’ll quickly find how short is the life of their own small car in service like that.


    2. Metro is great at running buses, but ridesharing apps are best left to the private sector. If Uber drivers got paid as much as Metro bus drivers, especially at the overtime rate, the service would become vastly more expensive.

      1. John, you voted to cut bus service and against subsidizing fares more for low-income riders. Where do you propose to find the money to pay rideshare drivers as public employees?

      2. Except as a cheaper alternative to paratransit (at least for those without wheelchairs), services like this should not be subsidized, for the simple reason that they don’t scale well enough. If more than a tiny number of people used the subsidy, the cost would balloon to far more than what operating buses cost.

      3. What Uber needs is a subscription based service.

        One monthly fee.

        All the miles you want.

        Use any time.

        It would replace the private automobile and generate tons of jobs.

      4. Unfortunately, I don’t see an unlimited monthly pass for Uber ever working. Once the pass was purchased, the passholder would use it for every trip, including routine 15+ mile commutes to work. The cost of providing the service would quickly balloon, and in order to make the service economical, a pass that covers 15,000 miles a year at $1.63 per mile would have to cost way, way more than a monthly car payment, gas, and insurance. Nobody with any sense who wants unlimited driving would ever buy the pass – instead, they would simply just buy a car.

      1. It’s also only useable for a tiny fraction of trips. It’s great for carpooling to work (at least if you work at a big company), but about the only discretionary trip available on there is Mariner’s games – which have plenty of bus service, so not much reason to bother.

        Eventually, the ridesharing services may one day evolve into true ridesharing – where drivers plug into the app on routine trips to the grocery store just in case an opportunity arises to make a quick buck on the way. Unfortunately, there is still way too much red tape to join as a driver, meaning that anyone using ridesharing for actual ridesharing isn’t going to make enough money to justify the up-front hassle of signing up. (And for passengers, there aren’t nearly enough drivers signup for the ridesharing companies for a true ridesharing service to be remotely reliable). So, instead, we have a system where drivers are making special trips for no other purpose than to drive others around and get paid for it. Not ideal, but at least we have a working system. Hopefully, once a critical mass of riders and drivers sign up, true real-time ridesharing can start to happen.

  8. I signed the petition because the more options there are to get around the city without owning a car, the less essential car ownership becomes. In the short term, outlawing Uber might mean a former Uber customer pays 50% more or waits 30+ minutes for a conventional taxi, or turns a 20-minute drive into a 90-minute, multiple transfer bus saga. In the long run, that person will simply use these types of trips as justification to buy a car and, once the car is there, stop riding the bus completely, and drive it everywhere.

    Ultimately, every form of transportation, be it roads, bike lanes, bus service – even sidewalks – requires some amount of political support in order to exist. In a world where nearly everybody owns a car, finding political support to pay for non-car-related infrastructure becomes extremely difficult – if everybody can just drive at the cost of only gas, all non-car-related infrastructure becomes no longer essential to the mobility of the mainstream population, which means it gets pushed way down the priority list, funding postponed effectively indefinitely.

    As to prior comments that the city will “study” the issue and remove the caps on their own in the next couple years, I simply do not trust the city council on this matter. The caps were imposed in order to cater to the taxi lobby. I see no reason to expect the city council to be more resistant to the taxi lobby in 2 years than they are today. Rather, I see this as simply promise they intend to quietly postpone indefinitely, under the hopes that in two years’ time, everyone will have moved on and forgotten. In any case, even if I’m wrong, why should the public have to endure worse service in the meantime?

    I read the description of I-111 and its proposal to keep the insurance regulations intact, while eliminating the caps. It sounds reasonable to me, but given the history of the person sponsoring it, I have serious doubts about its ability to pass, and I prefer a rollback of all the regulations, continuing the status quo, to the imposition or arbitrary caps and excessive fees.

    1. “In the long run, that person will simply use these types of trips as justification to buy a car and, once the car is there, stop riding the bus completely, and drive it everywhere.”

      Except that there is no long run. Uber has only existed here for 2-3 years, so it would just be returning to the pre-Uber level. Almost everyone who would get a car already has one, except a few people who recently turned 18 or moved to the area or just sold their car. And Zipcar still exists, so there’s another alternative.

      1. Zipcar is not really an alternative because the need to pay for the car while it’s parked makes the trip vastly more expensive. If you’re going to be at your destination point for more than a couple hours, it is not at all uncommon for a bus-one-way-Uber-the-other-way trip to cost $15-20, while Zipcar would cost $60. A couple weeks ago, I rode Uber from Seattle to Renton (needed to get there early in the morning, before the 101 started running). Even though the total bill came out to $37, it was still a bargain compared to the $60 I would have had to pay for a taxi or the $90 I would have had to pay to rent a Zipcar all day.

        In fact, between Car2Go, Uber, and Amazon, about the only time I ever use Zipcar anymore is to go hiking in the Cascades with out-of-town visitors.

        Car2Go could be considered a legitimate alternative to Uber if the trip is entirely within the home area and you don’t have more than 2 people. Unfortunately, lots of trips fail in one or both of these criteria.

      2. I used Zipcar for the first time two weeks ago to get rid of some bulky things. (I was pleased with that because we managed to get a broken chair to the dump, pesticide cans to the hazardous-waste site, dead printers to Re-PC, miscellania to Goodwill, and made a Costco run within the 4-hour time, costing $45.) I haven’t used any of the other services and I’m less likely to use them, because the only time I would is to places that don’t have buses or they’ve signed off for the day, and that’s where I worry about being stuck if there’s no car available when I want to return.

      3. Originally, when I got rid of my car, I imagined myself using Zipcar for bulk shopping. In practice, I ended up instead using Amazon for bulk shopping, as it’s much less hassle to let someone deliver the stuff to you than to drive to the store to get it.

        For a while, I often used Zipcar for social occasions in the evening when the buses didn’t run late enough to get me back home, but it ended up being quite expensive. If booked the trip for the exact amount of time I needed, it would typically cost $50-60, but I found having to constantly pay attention to the time and extend the reservation when necessary quite stressful. Sometimes, I just went ahead and booked a 24-hour reservation to avoid the stress factor, but now instead of $50-60, the trip would cost $90. (Zipcar does not give you any refunds whatsoever if you return the car early, so the best you can do is find something to use the car for with the extra time). By contrast, after riding the bus there (while it was still running), I can ride home on Lyft or UberX for only $30-35. No stress worrying about missing an exit and returning the car late. No hassles with returning the car at all. No worries about staying awake behind the wheel at 2 in the morning. And, at the same time, quite a bit cheaper.

        Except for the problem that I have to be able to trust a driver to actually show up when it’s time to leave. Obviously, nothing is guaranteed, but the more drivers are on the road, the better the chances, and any kind of cap on drivers is not going to help the chances. Fortunately, in this particular case, I’m not too concerned about getting stuck – worst case, I crash on my friend’s couch for the night and ride the bus home the next morning. But I definitely see your point and getting stuck were a bigger concern, I probably would just cough up the $90 for Zipcar to avoid the risk.

        That said, a situation where one feels compelled choose a $90 rental car over a $35 taxi ride just because you can’t trust a driver to show up should not be considered acceptable – we need a system that is more reliable than that. And the less red tape there is getting in the way of people making money driving others around, the more reliable such trips are going to get, and the less necessary a more-than-twice-the-price rental car becomes.

  9. Goldman-Sachs, Jeff Bezos and the TNCs’ VC backers really want to avoid regulation of any kind. That is why they are shelling $400K to gather signatures. They are paying $3 per signature, two to three times the going rate, to put a referendum on the ballot to overturn the entire law.

    While the TNCs yap about the cap, their real agenda is to avoid the insurance regulation. That is what is going to cost the TNC drivers major money,.

    However it is unlikely that this law can be overturned by a referendum. That is because for-hire vehicle regulation is an adminstrative power specifically o local jurisdictions by the state under RCW 46.72.001. According to an opinion by the City Attorney in the waterfront tunnel referendum:

    “Two well-established limits by the courts include (1) the rule that the local government “referendum power extends only to matters legislative in character and not to merely administrative acts.”

    What is the difference between legislative and administrative?

    According to this Washington State Initiative and Referendum Guide:

    “This of course raises the question of what is an administrative action and what is a legislative action. The courts have applied two tests in making this determination. First, actions relating to subjects of a permanent and general character are usually regarded as legislative matters, and actions taken on subjects of a temporary and special character are usually regarded as administrative matters. Second, the power to be exercised is legislative in nature if it prescribes a new policy or plan,whereas it is administrative in its nature if it merely pursues a plan already adopted by the legislative body or some power superior to it.”

    For-Hire laws have of course been part of RCW and SMC for decades. The City Council just passed revisions to the existing SMC. Furthermore, the TNC regs are a temporary pilot program and therefore administrative..

    1. “Second, the power to be exercised is legislative in nature if it prescribes a new policy or plan,whereas it is administrative in its nature if it merely pursues a plan already adopted by the legislative body or some power superior to it.”

      If the city’s rideshare regulations are not prescribing a new policy or plan, I don’t know what is. Sounds very legislative to me.

      1. First of all, the TNC portion of the new law is a two year pilot program so it is administrative just by that yardstick.

        While the section on TNCs is new, it is just an addition to the existing For-Hire statute. The insurance, driver licensing, vehicle inspection and even the cap are items that have already been applied to other For-Hire vehicles in the past so there is nothing particularly new there either.

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