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Lyft co-founder John Zimmer.
Lyft co-founder John Zimmer.

With Seattle set to place regulations on startups like UberX, Lyft and Sidecar, supporters of these companies are gathering Wednesday at noon in front of City Hall to “save ride-sharing in Seattle.”

Lyft co-founder and CEO John Zimmer flew up from the Bay Area on Tuesday and will be at the rally. We caught up with Zimmer, who is strongly opposed to Seattle’s proposed ordinance, to hear his thoughts on this situation as Seattle prepares to enact new laws this month that will make it more difficult for companies like Lyft to conduct business.

Continue reading for edited excerpts from our interview with Zimmer.

GeekWire: Why are you coming to Seattle?

John Zimmer: I wanted to have the chance to speak to the community and make sure we save Lyft in Seattle. I want to let everyone show the local officials how many community members value the service and I want to come together to make sure that we can continue to be allowed to operate in Seattle.

lyftseahawksGW: What’s the problem with the ordinance? What’s your biggest issue?

Zimmer: Overall, the [City Council] looks at this the same way they looked at transportation in the past and doesn’t acknowledge that this is a different model. I think the goal should be fair regulations around safety and actually believe that — as others cities and states have done — you can increase and advance safety through new platforms with more strict background checks and higher insurance limits.

You don’t need to make sacrifices in safety and you can actually advance safety. But at the same time, you have to acknowledge and understand differences in all types of models, whether it’s peer-to-peer transportation, taxi services, limousines — those details need to be understood so that it doesn’t force everyone into a box when they operate differently.

GW: Ideally, what do you want to see happen in Seattle from a regulation standpoint?

Zimmer: Being able to scale with supply and demand is important, but it’s also important to be able to use our safety measures, which are more strict and robust. For example, the ordinance requires us to use a background process check — ours actually has more data associated with it at a county level. We have more strict criteria and we should be able to use a more strict and different type of background check that protects our community better than anything they would require.

lyftappGW: If the current ordinance is approved by City Council, what will happen to Lyft in Seattle?

Zimmer: [The ordinance] just doesn’t work for the existing model. We’d have to reevaluate operations in Seattle. It wouldn’t make much sense. Basically, we have a new model for how we can get people out of cars that provides convenient, affordable, safe transportation. Then [the city] says no, we’re going to restrict what you can do and we’re going to make you use an old system that doesn’t work for your model. At that point we have to reevaluate operations in Seattle.

GW: Supporters of the ride-sharing movement are worried that the ordinance goes against Seattle’s commitment to innovation. What do you think about that?

Zimmer: I think Seattle has been a place for innovation — a place that understands sustainability and the need to provide multiple transportation options to get people out of owning cars. It’s surprising to see that the committee doesn’t fully understand the positive impact that this type of innovation will have and is having on the ability for individuals not to need to own a car in Seattle. It’s surprising that they haven’t seen that there are different innovative models. We hope that the City Council can innovate with how they look at the way to regulate new industries.

GW: How do Seattle’s proposed regulations compare to other cities?

Zimmer: This proposal least understands our model than that of any other city.

GW: Have you seen other cities or states implement those “innovative” models with success?

Zimmer: Other places have really taken the time to understand the model. We’ve tried to meet with Seattle’s Council members on the committee but haven’t been able to. We’ve explained to other cities the full model and how it works, how it operates, how we came together to advance safety and what harm could be caused to the model if certain rules were created. We’ve explained how to create serious regulations on a new industry but do it in a way that understands and appreciates differences in models.

California had a year-long rule-making process with several steps and they were able to come out with something that put, in many cases, more strict standards on new companies like Lyft, yet preserved innovation and consumer choice. I think that’s a fantastic model.

I don’t know if you saw this, but the state of Washington wants to do a study about this and have a thoughtful process at the state level. They are concerned with this issue and they see the value for the entire state. They see value of innovative transportation options that help people get out of cars and are concerned that one city could have a negative impact on it.

I think it’s better to look at this in a broad way instead of having a patchwork of regulations, city-by-city. I think the state is concerned that if a city creates something that doesn’t fully understand the positive benefits that a model could have, and to have a patchwork of regulations across the state, it would make it difficult for that model to have an advantageous value for the entire state of Washington.

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