(This guest post is by Sally Bagshaw, a member of the Seattle City Council, which is currently divided on how to regulate competing transportation companies.)
A year's worth of meetings about the future of transportation reached a crescendo this past Friday morning in Seattle City Council chambers. In a room packed with drivers and supporters, council members discussed how the city will regulate taxis, “for fire” vehicles, and rideshare services going forward. We are calling these rideshares Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), which include UberX and Lyft. We reached preliminary agreement on a number of issues. We also have one outstanding area where the debate goes on. Here are four important matters of regulation upon which we all agree:
Insurance: All drivers of commercial vehicles irrespective of mode must have adequate commercial-level insurance from the moment the driver logs onto the system.
Training: All drivers should take an exam and pass the same updated training focusing on relevant and current safety and consumer protection elements.
Drivers and Cars: All drivers must pass a rigorous background check, and all cars must pass an appropriate safety check by the city or a third party.
Hailing Rights: Give “for hires” hailing rights. This means “for hire” drivers will be able to legally pick you up when you signal them from the sidewalk. (Many For Hire drivers will pick up passengers on the street now anyway, but risk fines and other penalties for doing so. The change will put taxis and for hires on more equitable footing).
We council members have one major area of disagreement: CAPS. Capping the number of rideshare drivers and vehicles ignores our growing transportation needs.
Caps impose inappropriate limits to the growing rideshare industry, and unfairly reduce job opportunities for current and interested new drivers. Caps will slow the growth of burgeoning rideshare opportunities and frustrate those of us who want to get around our city without a car.
Caps compromise our ability to experiment within the marketplace to see how great the demand is for transportation alternatives. Data shows that a significant percentage of Seattle residents would love to live car free, if fast response time for rides were consistently available. Let’s see how fast we can make it.
Rather than mandating artificial limits, Seattle should take full advantage of all available technology to respond to consumers’ transportation needs. Our city is known for innovation. We are the vanguard of technology that works for people.
We are also a city that desperately needs many transportation options. That’s precisely why we must promote the growing rideshare industry, not stifle it.
UberX and Lyft are loath to tell us how many total drivers are in their systems. My estimate is roughly 1,200 drivers are signed up with UberX, and Lyft drivers tell me there are about 500 of them with Lyft. The cap as proposed would eliminate all but 300 of those drivers and their cars. Ridiculous. That’s a policy that takes us backward.
UberX reports that 95 percent of their drivers are from East Africa, India, and Pakistan, and Lyft proudly states 25 percent of its drivers in Seattle are women. These numbers are encouraging. I want to see more jobs, more drivers, more WOMEN drivers for that matter, faster response rates and higher standards across the board.
Caps on the number of taxis are a legacy of a mid-20th century system. That system may have worked for many last decade but it doesn’t address our needs now. New technologies and innovative ideas will help reduce congestion in all our neighborhoods and improve the ride experience for consumers if we will just let the technology work.
From a social justice standpoint, opening the door for more drivers—not reducing their number—helps everyone involved. Refugees and immigrants will continue to drive and support their families in taxis, for hires as well as TNC’s.
Drivers who have wanted to lease or buy their own taxis could be able to do so now. Rather than paying someone else for the privilege, they will be able to drive for themselves. Similarly, women, students, and part time drivers who choose to make money while providing the rest of us with rides will have increased opportunities to do so.
More rides, more riders. Fewer cars on the road. Less congestion. Less angst.
The cap as written would be temporary for two years. Why wait? I recommend that we get moving. Phase it in if we must, but let’s go. Yes, the city should regulate training, safety, insurance requirements and provide a platform to assure transparent fares. From that point on, I recommend we get out of the way.