The Western Washington Taxi Cab Operators Association is suing Uber, the app-based transportation company, for operating illegally in Seattle and King County.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, claims that Uber’s service has violated city, county and state laws, and “engages in an unlawful and deceptive business practice which harms the economic interests of taxicab drivers.”
The Seattle City Council voted earlier this month to regulate companies like Lyft, Sidecar and UberX, which is Uber’s low-cost offering that allows everyday drivers to shuttle people around town.
The association’s lawsuit is targeted primarily at UberX, but Uber has other, more expensive services like UberBlack where the company partners with professional drivers that are also referred to in the suit.
The complaint notes that the Operators Association’s members, which are made up of taxi drivers from the Seattle region, are forced to follow requirements enacted by the City of Seattle and King County while Uber’s drivers do not abide by the same laws.
“If the Operators Association’s members were to provide taxicab service without satisfying the City of Seattle and King County requirements, they would be subject to up to 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine,” reads the lawsuit. It also notes that taxi drivers, by law, must have security cameras, a GPS, a silent alarm, a fare meter and a fare list approved by the City and County, in addition to several insurance requirements.
The Operators Association also claims that “Uber exempts itself from any duty to provide fair and equal service,” while taxi drivers “satisfy every request for service so long as there are any operating taxicabs not in use.” In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Uber “harms the public interest by depriving the public of the rights and protections provided to passengers within those regulations, which include licensed, trained drivers and safe and properly insured vehicles, as well as the fees Uber would otherwise pay for the privilege of dispatching drivers on the public’s roads.”
There is another claim in the lawsuit pointing out a Washington state law that fines limousine services if they allow customers to make arrangements to immediately ask for a driver from their current location.
“Uber’s drivers similarly do not conform with Washington State law with regard to the operation of limousine transportation services, in that, among other actions, they permit customers to make arrangements to immediately engage their services,” the lawsuit reads.
Though deemed illegal by the state, the ability to immediately hail an Uber driver by pressing a few buttons on a smartphone is a feature lauded by Uber supporters.
The Operators Association is seeking compensation for damages equal to the fares and tips lost to Uber, in addition to “exemplary damages in an amount equal to three times the lost fares and tips caused by defendant Uber.” The association, which works closely with Teamsters Local 117, is represented by Schwerin Campbell Barnard Iglitzin & Lavitt LLP, a Seattle-based law firm specializing in legal strategies for unions.
“It’s hard enough to run your own taxi business when the city and the county nickel and dime us every step of the way. Now you have Uber coming in from out-of-state,” Parminder Cheema, a taxicab operator and elected member of the WWTCOA’s leadership council, said in this press release. “They’re funded by Silicon Valley and Wall Street, so they’ve got the resources, but they’re refusing to pay the price for doing business, and they’re refusing to follow the rules. It’s bad for our community, and it’s not safe.”
This is certainly not Uber’s first time dealing with legal claims against the San Francisco-based company. It is currently embroiled in lawsuits over driver harassment, tip-skimming, and the much-publicized incident of an Uber driver who struck and killed a 6-year-old girl. Meanwhile in Chicago, taxi drivers are suing the city for allowing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate.
Here’s a statement from Uber in regard to the lawsuit in Washington:
Uber remains focused on connecting people with the safest and most reliable transportation options in Seattle and protecting the thousands of small business jobs created by our technology platform. It is unfortunate that the taxi industry is not similarly focused on what really matters: safety of riders and opportunity for drivers.
Update: This story has been updated to clarify the details of the lawsuit.