Mayor Ed Murray, who is developing a reputation as a dealmaker, brokered a deal to end the feud among taxi, for-hire and ride-service drivers.
The compromise by a stakeholders group could head off a referendum on the November ballot, if the Seattle City Council repeals its March ordinance limiting the number of ride-service cars accessible via smartphone apps to 150 at any time. Devoted users of Lyft, uberX and Sidecar promptly voiced their displeasure with the referendum.
Council members should embrace the stakeholders deal and show city government is capable of adapting to innovative technology that meets demand for more transportation options. The compromise also would help level the playing field for all drivers to compete.
Similar to the council’s original ordinance, Murray’s plan requires all transportation companies to adhere to certain insurance standards, driver background checks, training and vehicle inspections.
But the mayor’s approach is more comprehensive. For-hire cars would be allowed for the first time to pick up customers who hail them on the street. All drivers could adopt smartphone technology to charge fares, arrange trips and accept payment. A 10-cent disability surcharge would be added to rides to offset the cost of wheelchair-accessible cars. And drivers on the uberX, Lyft and Sidecar networks would not be capped.
Taxi groups agreed to the deal if the city would allow 200 more licenses over the next four years and convert them into property rights that drivers could use as collateral. Whether a new regulatory framework might devalue these coveted “medallions,” which are sometimes valued in the six figures, is unclear.
If Seattle does not place caps on ride-services, it should apply the same rule to taxis.
For now, consumer safety is key. The council must ensure that data are tracked and a new ordinance funds strong enforcement.
All sides must be nimble.
©2014 The Seattle Times