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lyft-pinkJust as the fate of ride-sharing startups like UberX, Sidecar and Lyft in Seattle is decided this month, the state of Washington is now showing interest in determining how to regulate these new app-based companies.

Seattle’s City Council Committee for Taxi, For-hire, and Limousine Regulations will meet Friday at 9:30 a.m. to vote on a two-year pilot program that requires ride-sharing companies, among a bevy of other rules, to obtain a $50,000 annual license to operate as a transportation network company, and have its vehicles driving a maximum of 16 hours per week. A final decision from the committee is expected to be made Friday and the Full Council will vote on the matter next week.

Companies like Lyft and Sidecar, which say that the regulations would make it impossible for them to conduct business in Seattle, have been operating without licenses — the city deems this illegal since the startups are not being regulated by government. This has angered taxi companies, who are regulated and are losing business.

Meanwhile, House Bill 2782 was introduced by State Representatives Tarleton (D-36th) and Habib (D-48th) last week. The bill would direct the state’s Joint Transportation Committee to study the taxi, limousine, and ride-share industry and make recommendations regarding a state regulatory framework. The bill reads:

The legislature finds that Washingtonians are early adopters of technology and have come to rely on services provided by mobile application-based personal transportation services. The legislature further finds that a piecemeal approach to regulating such services could result in a patchwork of conflicting standards, stifle innovation, and reduce consumer choice.

If enacted, the bill aims to conduct a study by December 2014 and adopt a statewide regulatory framework by 2015. Bob Pishue, director of Washington Policy Center’s transportation arm, said that the state’s regulations could end up superseding any rules set forth by a city — much like how Seattle has to follow the state’s current limousine regulations.

Pishue also noted that HB2782 is “consumer-based.”

“It’s based on safety for the consumer, mobility for the consumer — things like that,” Pishue said. “The Seattle City Council’s regulations are about protecting the way things have typically been done and isn’t really focused on the consumer. It’s focused on the taxi companies.”

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

HB2782, which has four sponsors, still must be brought to the House floor and be approved by the Senate. Furthermore, it is only proposing a study for now.

Still, it’s clear that Washington has taken interest in the ride-sharing situation, especially after seeing other states like California enact their own laws.

“If the state is looking at this, it obviously sees the need for these services in cities,” Pishue said. “This is a big issue.”

Lyft co-founder and president John Zimmer, who is flying to the Emerald City today for a rally on Wednesday to “save ride-sharing in Seattle,” has voiced his disappointment with Seattle’s proposed regulations for companies like his. But Zimmer told GeekWire today that he’s encouraged by Washington’s interest.

“They want to have a thoughtful process on the state-level,” he said. “They see the value for the entire state — the value of innovation and having transportation options that help people get out of cars. They are concerned that one city could have a negative impact on that.”

We’ll be live at the City Council meeting on Friday, so check back on GeekWire for more coverage then.

Update, 8:40 a.m., Feb. 12: 

Sally Clark, who chairs the City Council Committee for Taxi, For-hire, and Limousine Regulations, said that she’s in favor of the state getting involved in establishing uniform insurance standards.

“Seattle is out front trying to get the TNC’s legal and safe, but many smaller jurisdictions will need help with setting regulations,” she said. “The state could bring much needed light to the safety and insurance standards needed for passenger, driver and public safety.”

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