Earlier this year when the Seattle City Council set initial regulations for Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, it seemed nobody was happy — taxi drivers included — with the regulations approved by the councilmembers.
Fast forward five months, and my how things have changed.
The Seattle City Council today voted 6-3 to repeal an ordinance that had capped the number of active UberX, Lyft and Sidecar drivers at 150 each. The decision left almost everybody in attendance happy and sets the stage to act on a new set of regulations based on an agreement brokered by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.
The council will convene again next Monday to discuss and potentially approve the new agreement, which will legalize the San Francisco-based startups — also known as transportation network companies (TNCs) — while removing any caps, enforcing insurance requirements, and adding new taxi licenses for the first time in more than two decades.
Three councilmembers — Mike O’Brien, Kshama Sawant, and Nick Licata — voted to hold off on the repeal. They wanted to see how a King County Court judge this week will rule on a referendum lawsuit against the City filed by representatives from the taxi industry who allege that the original ordinance was not subject to a referendum process, which enabled a TNC-supported coalition group to suspend the ordinance in April.
“I see no urgency in repealing this ordinance until we have a full reading from the judge,” O’Brien said.
But Sally Clark, who chairs the Committee on Taxi, For-Hire and Limousine Regulations, noted how it wasn’t likely that the judge will rule against a public vote.
“I think the likelihood of the judge saying that something should not go to the voters is low,” Clark said.
After the new agreement was reached last month, Murray had asked City Council to approve the new deal and repeal the original ordinance that set the limits. With today’s 6-3 vote, the coalition will no longer fight to hold a public referendum on the ordinance.
“I support this repeal for the reason of gaining some clarity,” councilmember Sally Bagshaw said. “I would like to signal to the industry that we are serious about a solution.”
Almost all stakeholders at City Hall today voiced support for the new agreement.
“We want to move on,” said Eastside for Hire general manager Sam Guled. “[The new agreement] is not perfect, but we can live with it.”
“The industry as a whole, we feel confident,” added CNG for Hire CEO Abdul Yusef. “We all got something, even though we all lost something.”
While the TNCs will face stronger insurance requirements than what was previously implemented in the original ordinance, the new agreement will not enforce any type of cap and allow the startups to have an unlimited amount of drivers — clearly a change that the companies are happy about:
Thx to @SeattleCouncil for repealing the ordinance that caps the # of vehicles on the system! New ordinance w/ no caps will be voted for Mon
— Uber Seattle (@Uber_SEA) July 7, 2014
Contrary to previous City Council meetings on this issue, the mood was light and far less tense today. In fact, the most controversial topic during the public comment portion was about a law in the new agreement that dictates how for-hire vehicles must paint their vehicles.
However, GreenCab Taxi General Manager Chris Van Dyk, who’s listed as a plaintiff in the referendum lawsuit, said he was disappointed that the council did not wait to see the judge’s ruling.
“It’s not unexpected, but it’s disappointing that they wouldn’t take a week and let the court rule,” he said. “Now, whatever they do with respect to regulation of taxi and for-hire vehicles, they’ll be looking over their shoulder. Uber is dictating policy. It’s a steamroll.”
Meanwhile, Sawant said that there are bigger issues at play than today’s decision to repeal the ordinance or the judge’s decision on the referendum lawsuit.
“A $17 billion multinational corporation is moving in and putting small transportation businesses out of business,” she said. “This is nothing different than what what Wal-Mart has done, and how Amazon has taken out independent bookstores.”
Sawant added that the controversy between the TNCs and taxis also highlight Seattle’s transportation issues.
“Individual taxi drivers who are just ordinary workers trying to make a living are not the source of the problem,” she said. “The problem is that we don’t have real options. We need big investment into mass transit options.”