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Councilmember Bruce Harrell speaks with taxi industry members at a meeting earlier this year.
Councilmember Bruce Harrell speaks with taxi industry members at a meeting earlier this year.

The Seattle City Council is expected to vote today to repeal the ordinance that capped the number of active UberX, Lyft and Sidecar drivers at 150 each — setting the stage to act on a new set of regulations based on an agreement brokered by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

Councilmember Sally Clark, who heads up the Transportation Committee, tells GeekWire that she expects the council to repeal the ordinance today and vote on the new agreement next week.

“City of Seattle and King County staff and lawyers worked last week and are working this week on trying to (resolve) outstanding issues identified in the proposed rule revisions,” she said this morning. “I intend for us to be ready to act on the revised rules on July 14.”

Back in March, the council passed an ordinance that would have legalized the San Francisco-based startups — also known as transportation network companies (TNCs) — and added other safety requirements.

But Uber and Lyft took issue with the regulations — specifically the active driver cap, which would have allowed each company no more than 150 cars on Seattle’s roads at once. The TNCs complained that the cap was limiting innovation and would have “crushed” them.

So in response, the startups poured in more than $600,000 to a coalition group that collected enough petition signatures to suspend the the ordinance in April and put it up for public vote on a ballot later this year.

uberxSince then, Mayor Ed Murray brought together stakeholders from all involved parties — taxi industry, TNCs, city leaders — to work on a new deal. He voiced concern with the ordinance going public vote, noting that “a lot of people will spend a lot of money that could be spent better on their own businesses.”

After nearly two months of discussions, an agreement was reached in June that removed the 150 vehicle cap, established revised TNC insurance requirements and added taxi licenses.

Murray has asked City Council to approve the agreement and repeal the original ordinance that set the limits.

If the Council does indeed repeal the ordinance, it will end the coalition’s efforts to hold a public referendum on the ordinance. Brad Harwood, spokesperson for the coalition, said that he’s “optimistic” that the Council will support the new agreement. He also noted that the coalition has collected even more signatures for an initiative that would appear on the ballot later this year in case the council does not approve the new rules.

“We hope the council will act quickly in support of the new proposal so that an initiative won’t be necessary,” Harwood said.

Uber Seattle General Manager Brooke Steger added this morning that her company will continue supporting the coalition’s efforts if the council does not repeal the old ordinance today.

Meanwhile, a King County Court judge will this week 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 the referendum process.

“We would prefer that the council not repeal the ordinance today and let the court have its say,” said GreenCab Taxi General Manager Chris Van Dyk, who’s listed as a plaintiff in lawsuit.

Van Dyk noted that the new agreement is “worse for the taxi industry than anything Uber dreamed of,” because of the removal of caps and other laws.

“All we ask of the council today is that they let the court rule,” Van Dyk said. “We deserve to know what the law says, even though Uber doesn’t follow it.”

But Van Dyk seems to be in the minority, as this letter sent last week to councilmembers from representatives from the taxi industry, the TNCs and Teamsters Local 117 encourages the council to enact the new agreement “in order to avoid a divisive ballot initiative fight.”

We’ll be at the City Council meeting later today at 2 p.m., so check back on GeekWire for updates from City Hall this afternoon.

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