Back in March, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick pulled no punches when discussing Seattle’s plan to cap the number of drivers that his company and others could have on the streets at any given time.
“I think the short answer is that the rules are designed to incapacitate Uber and make it unusable,” he said.
What a difference a few months make. After a 55-day negotiating process, an agreement announced this afternoon by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray will let UberX, Lyft, Sidecar and other app-based transportation services continue operating in the city — nixing the plan to put a cap on drivers.
“It’s pretty phenomenal, considering where we were just two months ago,” Brooke Steger, general manager of Uber Seattle, said via phone this afternoon.
In exchange, the ride-sharing companies — officially known as Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) — made a series of concessions, including a commitment to provide the City of Seattle with data about the rides provided through their services. They also agreed to boost the insurance coverage for their drivers during the times when they aren’t carrying a passenger.
The data disclosure is an example of a concession that Uber wasn’t entirely happy about, given the competitive nature of that information, Steger said. However, the company acquiesced after the city agreed to take steps to keep the information confidential.
Drivers from both the taxi and for-hire companies won several new rights. For example, traditional for-hire drivers will now be able to pick up customers who hail them from the street, not just those who arrange rides in advance.
“The hails on the street are a big thing for us,” said Samatar Guled, general manager of Eastside for Hire. “It’s very important.”
Though Guled noted how the industry is “not 100 percent happy.”
“It’s a tough compromise,” he said. “But it works out for us and we’re OK with it.”
The city also agreed to transition to more of a traditional medallion model that gives taxi drivers additional ownership rights. Taxi companies will also now be able to use their own smartphone apps to arrange pick-ups — something that wasn’t possible with the previous regulations.
“It gives us an opportunity to compete,” said Amin Shifow, a taxi driver for the past 18 years in Seattle.
In addition, the City will add 10 taxi stands — places where only taxi drivers are allowed to pick up passengers — at locations like hotels and stadiums in Seattle next year. The new rules also allow taxi companies to use a cheaper version of commercial insurance.
Paul Zilly, a spokesman for Teamsters 117, which organizes taxi drivers, said that the new agreement is a positive step forward to “leveling the playing field in the industry.”
“The addition of new taxi stands will help expand and improve service to the public, and new standardized insurance requirements that include the TNCs is a positive development,” he said. “The drivers are also encouraged by the city’s willingness to transition their licenses to a property right, something they have been requesting for years. This recognizes the drivers as small business owners who have made significant investments in their businesses to serve the public.”
Guled said he was skeptical about the City Council’s original ordinance. “Let’s be realistic. The 150 cap that the city had in place was not enforceable. I called it a fake cap. Now, at least we know what we have to deal with.”
As for the process, he said, “This is a big win for Mayor Ed Murray. When he went into negotiations, no one expected an agreement. … There were a couple times when the negotiations almost broke down, but the city came up with creative solutions that worked in the end.”