Mayor Murray today announced a compromise deal reached by representatives of the traditional for-hire and taxi industries as well as the so-called transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft. The result? A bit of give and take, but at the end of the day, a big win for the TNCs: no caps on the number of drivers they can have on the streets. The mayor's office will ask the council to pass an ordinance based on their agreement, but said today it didn't have the language ready to share with reporters.
But The Stranger has obtained a draft version of the agreement (PDF), dated June 12, which matches up with what the mayor announced today (the mayor's office says it will get me a newer version soon—update: here it is). Here's how it would change the transportation landscape:
- No caps on TNCs
- The city will issue 200 new licenses for taxi drivers over the next four years
- Taxi licenses would be treated as property rights, or similar to medallions in other cities
- All drivers must submit to the same background checks and carry the same insurance
- For-hire drivers would have hailing rights (meaning, customers can hail them down)
How did Murray bring together the two sides, which were furiously lobbying against one another in front of the City Council in March? "I just locked 'em in another room, down the hall from the minimum wage room," Murray quipped. The council had passed an ordinance regulating TNCs—they had operated outside the scope of existing laws for years—and capping their drivers at 150 per day. The TNCs argued the caps would "kill" their businesses, and began gathering signatures for a referendum to overturn the council ordinance.
Murray, for his part, had threatened to issue cease and desist orders against the TNCs.
But as with the minimum wage, despite the grand bargain, the issue appears far from settled. Brooke Steger, the general manager of Uber Seattle, told me after the mayor's announcement that her coalition of TNCs is going to continue gathering signatures for its referendum to overturn the council's ordinance. And she says Uber's going to work at the state level to try to change insurance regulations. Murray acknowledged it's going to be a "heavy lift" to get his proposal through council.
Ahmed Yusuf, the owner of CNG For Hire, described to me how the taxi companies and for-hire drivers pushed at the negotiating table for a "hard cap"—not a "fake cap," like the one the council passed, which the city is unwilling to enforce—of several hundred drivers on TNC companies, just like there are hard caps on taxi drivers. Is he worried about being overrun? "That was the worry and still is," he said. "The other side is too powerful...there's nothing you can do about it when the ones who were elected are not doing anything."
At least under the mayor's proposal, Yusuf said, his for-hire drivers would have new rights to pick up passengers who hail them on the street. Also, Uber and Lyft drivers will have to get insurance and submit to the same kinds of background checks as for-hire drivers. "That becomes a kind of cap. It slows it down a little bit. But that's the best we could get."