Earlier this year, drivers from for-hire companies in Seattle would attend City Council meetings and publicly voice their displeasure with new startups like Uber and Lyft.
Now, though, those feelings have appeared to go away.
Less than a month after the Seattle City Council passed legislation to legalize transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, the King County For Hire Association has teamed up with Uber to put on an event tonight that “recognizes the driver community in Seattle, its diversity and the outstanding level of service and safety they provide to Seattle residents and visitors.”
Yep, that’s right — those for-hire drivers that interrupted a pro-TNC rally at City Hall in February are now hosting a celebratory event with the company it once despised.
“We are coming together and putting all the fighting behind us,” said Eastside For Hire General Manager Sam Guled. “We are moving forward.”
The King County For Hire Association first reached out to Uber to ask if the company would like to partner for the event.
“I thought it was a wonderful idea,” Uber Seattle General Manager Brooke Steger said.
All drivers — including those from taxi companies and other TNCs — are invited to tonight’s event. Mayor Ed Murray plans to give a short speech thanking drivers for their service, while councilmember Bruce Harrell will announce that July 30 is now officially Seattle’s “Driver Appreciation Day.”
Harrell told GeekWire that the city did not play a role in participating in Wednesday’s event, but was eager to get involved.
“The drivers have been whipsawed into this discussion, but they are a critical part of this transportation infrastructure,” Harrell said in a phone interview today. “We wanted to single them out and I’m glad to recognize them.”
Uber’s Seattle team will also announce a new scholarship fund for its drivers and their immediate families. The company is partnering with the College Success Foundation for the local initiative and will initially donate $25,000 to the fund.
“Many of our partner drivers are either in school, want to go to school or have a spouse or child who are seeking higher education,” Steger said. “We wanted to show our appreciation to drivers and helping to fund education is one of the most meaningful ways of doing so as its benefits will last a lifetime.”
It’s noteworthy that there are good vibes between Uber and at least some of the incumbent drivers, especially after the two sides traded barbs in numerous City Council meetings over the past year-and-a-half. Guled noted how it’s time to move on now that the city has implemented new rules.
“We are all adults and we have to accept that change happens,” he said. “We’re not 100 percent happy with how everything turned out, but we just have to compete.”
On July 14, the City Council voted 8-1 to approve legislation that provides a new regulatory framework for the San Francisco-based TNCs. The decision ended a 15-month process that saw the city originally approve laws in March that placed a cap on the TNCs.
However, the original ordinance was suspended in April thanks to a coalition group — one that received more than $1 million from Uber and Lyft — which forced Mayor Murray to bring together stakeholders from all involved parties to work on a new deal.
After nearly two months of discussions, an agreement was reached in June that removed a 150-vehicle cap for each company, established revised TNC insurance requirements, gave hailing rights to the flat-rate for-hire companies — which were previously banned from picking up street hails — set a 10-cent surcharge on each ride to fund wheelchair-accessible taxis, and added 200 taxi licenses over the next four years.
Aside from a few minor changes, the agreement ultimately became law this month. Harrell said today that he’s “very pleased” with how everything turned out.
“The issue was creating a new space that was fair to all and making sure the insurance and driver training remained intact,” he said. “… I think now we are embracing a space where they can all provide great service and we can get more folks out of cars. Seattle will be a better place for it.”