The “No Cap” Option Goes Down in Flames – but Uber and Lyft will Thrive in Seattle



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This was the view from MY seat. Taxi drivers, for hire drivers and UberX supporters jammed council chambers. Impossibly few women in this audience.

On Thursday, February 27, 2014, my colleagues and I voted on the future of taxis, “for hire” vehicles, and Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft.

We all agreed that irrespective of the mode, all drivers need to be trained, cars need to undergo appropriate safety checks, and decent commercial or umbrella insurance coverage must be purchased or provided to protect drivers, passengers and third parties.

I believe that we should not impose caps on the TNCs or taxis.  I think that this is one of those things that the free market will sort out better than government can. I wrote about my thoughts last week.  You can read  my position about taxis/fore hires/TNCs here

But getting things done in government requires compromise, and a majority of my colleagues on the council do not agree with me. My amendment to allow unlimited numbers of TNC drivers and cars was defeated by a 3-6 vote.  CM Burgess and CM Rasmussen were the only Councilmembers who voted with me.

We had two options at that point: accept an amendment offered by my other colleagues to cap TNC drivers at 300 TOTAL city-wide.  The TNCs said this would kill their burgeoning businesses in Seattle because many of their drivers are part timers, and a 300 driver cap would prevent them from driving.

That option was unacceptable to me because it failed to consider the needs of riders, and it also would have virtually eliminated options for women drivers who are breaking into the system.  So I opted for another approach.

Four of my colleagues and I agreed to legislation allowing Uber, Lyft, and any other TNC to have up to 150 cars ON THE SYSTEM EACH at the same time.  This means that each company can have an unlimited number of drivers and vehicles tested, insured, and safety-checked, ready to go, and up to 150 vehicles from each of these companies can be on the street to address market demand when the drivers decide to drive.

Assuming the legislation passes the full council, (which it is likely to do because all nine Councilmembers voted this legislation out of committee), Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar can collectively offer up to 450 TNCs available to Seattle passengers at any given moment. If any other company wants to provide the service, it gets 150 cars, too.  We don’t know how many drivers are on the system now — but we will collect data over the next year on all modes and find out.

We also agreed to expand the taxi fleet by 200 cars over the next two years. Although I would have preferred no limits here as well, this does allow the first expansion of the taxi fleet in decades

Over the next year, the City will see how many cars and drivers are on the system.  As we know more, we can change the caps as demand increases.  Having caps at all is not where I hoped to be, but it is what could be done, and this approach gives riders and drivers a chance to thrive.