New competition for Tacoma taxis: Lyft, Sidecar make services available south of Seattle

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Tacoma Brewing Company owner Morgan Alexander fist-bumps with Titus, a Lyft driver, in downtown Tacoma. Photo courtesy of Erik Bjornson.

While the debate rages on in Seattle over the legality of app-based transportation companies like UberX, Lyft and Sidecar, it looks like Tacoma may soon have to deal with the same issue.

Both Lyft and Sidecar vehicles are operating in Tacoma, a large city with more than 200,000 residents just 45 minutes south down Interstate-5 from Seattle.

A Sidecar vehicle in Tacoma. Photo courtesy of Erik Bjornson.

A Sidecar vehicle in Tacoma. Photo courtesy of Erik Bjornson.

Lyft announced that it would service the Tacoma area last week, and a Sidecar spokesperson said that expansion into Tacoma is “happening organically.”

“Drivers are firing up the app on their own volition in Tacoma because it’s so easy to accept rides where and when they want,” the Sidecar spokesperson said. “We expect this to continue as our Washington community grows.”

UberX, meanwhile, hinted earlier this month that it would like to offer its service in Tacoma as well.

Erik Bjornson, an attorney in Tacoma, said he’s already used Lyft four times and Sidecar once. So far, he’s impressed.

“I was surprised that almost all of the drivers were professionals,” he said. “The first Lyft driver was a professional chauffeur. The Sidecar driver was a full time driver working for King County Metro Transit.”

Maria Lee, a spokesperson for the City of Tacoma, told us that there are currently no specific regulations for these companies other than a general business license requirement. She noted that city officials are looking into how a company like Lyft or UberX may affect Tacoma.

“As per the usual protocol, once staff has shared the results of their review and evaluation with the City Manager, Mayor and Council, it will also be made available to the public,” she said.

sidecarsmalllThe transportation companies can expect to face some backlash if city leaders decide to regulate the services in the same way they do with taxis. Tacoma has a full list of requirements for anyone who wants to drive a taxi in its city, including proper licensing, criminal background checks and training programs.

However, in an interview on the Jason Rantz Show, Tacoma City Councilmember Ryan Mello expressed optimism for services like Uber in his city.

“I really want Uber to come to town,” Mello said. “I’m excited about it because as someone who likes to get around town as conveniently as possible, I want as many options as possible.”

The Seattle City Council on Tuesday voted to voted to cap the number of vehicles that UberX, Sidecar and Lyft can have on the streets at one time to 150 after nearly a year of deliberation. Debated topics — which several other cities in the country are also grappling over — included, among others, insurance requirements and a “level-playing field.”

Mello, however, said he doesn’t think there needs to be any sort of cap in Tacoma.

“As far as I’m concerned as a customer who wants to have options, I don’t see the public policy reason for having a cap,” Mello said.

The City of Tacoma currently licenses about 115 taxis in the area. Mello said he’s unaware of any cap that’s been placed on taxis. Listen to his interview on KIRO Radio here:

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  • London Spears

    I’ve tried both UberX and Lyft several times and I definitely prefer Lyft. The drivers are much more fun; you don’t get a dry/cold driver. It’s actually a great experience with Lyft! I can’t speak more highly about Lyft :)

    And if you haven’t tried Lyft yet, download the app and enter code “PROMO1″ for a $25 credit.