In this week's issue of The Stranger I write about proposed changes to Seattle's taxi and flat-rate/for-hire regulations, as well as efforts to legitimize and regulate popular (but illegal) "ride share" services like Lyft, Sidecar, and uberX. In a nutshell, the number of vehicles authorized to pick up hailing passengers would increase by 50 percent, while the number of ride share drivers will likely be capped.
Bitch about it in the comment threads all you want, but if you think there are easy solutions to these issues then you really don't know what the fuck you are talking about. As I explain in my piece, this is an extremely complicated industry composed of multiple service categories subject to overlapping regulations from various jurisdictions. Case in point (and one I didn't have room to address in print) is the complicated issue of "deadheading."
Deadheading is when a taxi drops off a passenger in one direction and then must drive back empty, for example, when a county-licensed cab drops off a passenger in Seattle. Taxis and flat-rate/for-hires are licensed by both the county and the city—only city-licensed vehicles may pick up passengers in Seattle, while only county-licensed vehicles may pick up passengers in the non-Seattle portions of King County. Of the 1,201 taxis and flat-rate/for-hires currently in service, 340 are city-only, 318 are county-only, and 543 are licensed to pick up passengers in both the city and the county.
Of course, deadheading is incredibly wasteful, both of the driver's time, and of the carbon-spewing fuel that powers the vehicle. But there are reasons these restrictions exist. If all vehicles were licensed to pick up passengers anywhere in the city or county, you wouldn't be able to find a cab in most of the county on a busy Friday or Saturday night: they'd all be cruising the lucrative nightlife districts of Seattle. County-only licenses are intended to ensure service is available outside of Seattle.
Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell has attempted to address one instance of deadheading by proposing an amendment that would allow vehicles that cross the city line under contract to companies like Microsoft, to pick up a return passenger from the client on the other side. And at first glance, this narrow exception appears reasonable. But the problem is, once one non-Seattle-licensed cab is allowed to pick up a passenger within city limits, even under the narrowest of circumstances, the broader restriction becomes nearly impossible to enforce. For how are Seattle police and city inspectors to know which county-licensed vehicles are attempting legal in-city pickups, without either stopping and inspecting every such pickup they come across, or conversely trusting cabbies to the honor system? It would make for a regulatory nightmare.
The city and county may ultimately decide that the costs of deadheading outweigh the benefits of these jurisdiction-only licenses. But creating an exception that complicates enforcement is an invitation for abuse. It is an extremely complicated industry in which simple solutions don't always produce simple results.