Councilmember Clark left office on April 14, 2015.
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Council vote today means you can soon catch a legal ride with UberX, Lyft or Sidecar


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Below are the notes I used in today’s Full Council vote on Seattle’s first rules expanding access to taxi ownership and defining operating rules for transportation network companies (TNCs) and their affiliated drivers. The Council, after debating several amendments, voted unanimously to put in place a framework for legal TNC operations in Seattle.

My experience on Council has been that every few years something about taxi regulations gets to the point where something has to be fixed; we can’t dodge it any longer. This seems true in most cities. Government performs a quick, band-aid fix, avoiding acknowledgement that the regulatory system is old and heavier than needed, then government jumps away from taxi regulatory reform as quickly as possible.

Avoiding a comprehensive fix is no longer possible. What we’re voting on today isn’t a complete fix, but it’s a start.

First meeting of the Taxi, Limo, For-Hire Committee – March 14, 2013.

We started not to address the operational rules for the new companies, but out of a need to resolve conflict between the taxis and the flat-rates and to better fund enforcement of the rules governing the existing, legacy players.

Previously, the laws of the universe were simple and constant – the taxis have been angry at the flat-rates, both have been angry at the limos.

Then, the laws of the universe changed.

The question for the committee quickly came to be: how do we bring new players with different business models into a regulatory framework built for a different time.

We met pretty much once a month, taking a break during Council’s consideration of the budget, then twice last month.

  • We’ve heard hours of testimony at the microphone.
  • Contracted for a study of the Seattle market to get a better idea of the demand for alternatives to the personal automobile and bus. (Reviewed in committee in September.)
  • We’ve been inundated with form emails, personal emails, personal phone calls and robo-generated calls.
  • We’ve been worked over by drivers, owners, riders, lobbyists, pundits and PR flacks.

Through all of this we’ve attempted to ground our work in three goals:

  • Safety
  • Consumer protection
  • Expanded mobility choices 

A lingering question is whether the City should regulate taxis and flat-rate cars – and now TNC cars — in order to accomplish a fourth goal:

Ensure drivers can make a living. This was a goal of re-regulation in the early 90’s and has been an underpinning of the cap on the number of taxi licenses up to now. Charge people a fair, managed rate – and allow as many operators as can make a decent living. That idea is greatly challenged in 2014.

A reminder that two state code definitions determine the boundaries of our work:

Rideshare: limited definition in state code to carpools and vanpools for commuters between home and work or school. Maybe you’re splitting gas. IRS keeps that at 56 cents/mile.

For-hire vehicle: any vehicle used for the transportation of persons for compensation.

UberX and Lyft aren’t ridesharing under state definitions. They are for-hire transportation – charging more than a share of the gas. That triggers a host of safety, training and operational requirements – requirements that admittedly need an overhaul.

Unfortunately, the limited access to taxi licenses in Seattle and King County coupled with driver and vehicle regulations that haven’t kept up with contemporary service expectations and technology, make disruption not only inevitable, but welcomed by many drivers and riders.

And disruption there has been – in cities across the United States and other parts of the globe. The companies have chosen to launch first, ask questions later. Every city and state looks to be playing out the same debate as we’re having here.

  • Cease & desist in multiple cities – NYC, Washington DC, Portland, Miami, Madison, WI
  • Austin – limited to IRS 56 cents/mile
  • Houston – strife
  • Chicago City Council — subpoena for insurance records.
  • CA defined transportation network companies for the first time, but didn’t dig into safety checks or insurance. San Francisco supervisors may seek authority to regulate, perhaps even cap car numbers
  • Violence in Paris against Uber cars and drivers

In Seattle, we’re about to define the regulatory framework under which UberX, Lyft, Sidecar and their followers can operate legally in the city. These rules recognize that times are changing – and that safety and consumer protection never go out of style.

What does this legislation do?

I like to think it hits on safety, consumer protection and expanded mobility choices from multiple angles.

Starting with the Council Bill:

  • The City will expand the opportunity to own a traditional cab by releasing 100 taxi vehicle licenses in 2014 and 100 in 2015. Potential owners will have to pre-qualify to show good driving records and they can’t already own a cab or a share of a cab.
  • Flat-rate cars – we discussed the future of this small segment of the provider market and decided to let them live. When this legislation comes into effect, flat-rate cars will be able to pick up street hails, but not be able to queue at taxi stands.
  • The bill loosens the requirements on owner/drivers of wheelchair accessible taxis, a more expensive and necessary service model.
  • The bill establishes a two-year pilot phase for operating a new form of for-hire transportation.
  • For the first time, Seattle will define a new entity engaged in for-hire operations – the Transportation Network Company. Think of this as the mother ship.
  • When this legislation comes into effect, anyone who drives a for-hire vehicle (including a TNC-affiliated vehicle) will go through the same training in order to receive a For-Hire Driver’s License.
  • All vehicles engaged in for-hire work (including TNC-affiliated cars), will go through a safety check. For TNC-affiliated cars, you’ll be able to do this with a certified mechanic.
  • TNCs and their affiliate drivers will have to provide insurance coverage while “live on the system” equal to commercial insurance required of other for-hire ride providers.

The companies’ announcements last week that they recognize the pre-match, trolling time live on the app as requiring their coverage is a step in the right direction. The companies should further recognize that people should have the same security in case of an accident in a car with a pink mustache as they do in a taxi.

  • For the at least the first year of this pilot, TNCs will be limited to having no more than 150 cars “live” on their system at any time. That’s an additional 450 cars serving passengers in Seattle if the systems max out.

The cap during the pilot phase allows a transition. It allows operations at a significant scale and minimizes the possible “rush to drive” seen in San Francisco. On the one hand, the migration of drivers to TNC work meets new demand. On the down side, it may sap drivers from modes other people depend upon. Crashing the taxi system isn’t a desired outcome. Too many people in our city depend upon taxis. The cap allows us a controlled test and transition.

  • After one-year, the city may raise, lower or remove entirely the cap on “live” cars. We’ll discuss in the amendments in a moment who has the authority to move the cap.

We’re not regulating the fare that TNC’s can charge. Fares will have to be filed with the City, they’ll be public record, but it will be up to consumers to decide who they want to pay.

The Resolution:

The great news is that we have much more work to do.

  • Driver training must be reworked with King County, focused on safety and customer service.
  • Vehicle licensing and re-licensing must be reworked with King County, simplified and streamlined.
  • The resolution states we’ll review insurance classification levels in pursuit of greater options for taxi and flat-rate drivers.
  • Council will receive regular
    reports
    on how the new taxi licenses are being distributed and on how the options and ride quality for passengers may be affected by opening up the provider market this way.
  • With King County we’ll review the composition of the Taxi Advisory Committee so that it better reflects the different provider models operating in Seattle.

SideCar reported a new harvest of $10 million in investment capital a few weeks ago.

Uber raised $237 million last year.

Lyft has raised $83 million in the last year.

I don’t bring these numbers up to say these massively successful funding rounds are necessarily a bad thing (that all depends upon how you treat drivers and passengers in the long run). But it does beg a question –

  • Riders tell us they love your service quality.
  • Drivers tell us they love the flexibility.

You’re doing so many things right. You have a lot to teach regulators about how to strip back over-weight and redundant regulatory constraints.  If only you would communicate and collaborate.

How can you raise this much money, have what I imagine are battalions of lawyers and not have a better plan for how to engage with policymakers? It’s amazing how many simultaneous city and state-level wars you’re waging.

To the taxi owners, this is a wake-up call. Or shout. Or cannon shot. Thousands of taxi trips happen in our city each day. Most are great are at least unremarkable.  Too many involve poor dispatch, poor driver comportment, a battle over presentation of a credit card or out-right refusal of a short hop ride.

We are moving several dials at the same time. We will be working with Mayor Murray as we track the impacts on passengers and drivers. I’m very glad to see his commitment to quick and focused revamping of the city’s for-hire regulations. I hope King County regulators, our partners in all of this, are as excited as we are to crack open licensing.

What is before Council today is not the complete fix, but it’s a start.

Comments

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Comment from Sam Dastan
Time March 17, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Yes. Yellow cab or Orange cab Sucks but this is not the drivers fault. More than 90% of Uber or UberX are ex or current Cab drivers. The majority of cab drivers honestly believe that the city/county officials are in the pocket of Taxi owners and Associations. Because every regulation law they pass is against them. As a yellow cab driver I am not in favor of caps , but no cap on Taxis should be implemented either. A cab driver leases a cab from so called co-ops or single owner for $85 to $125 per shift plus gas. A cab driver has to work for owners 75% or even more these days of his shift. When an Uberx or Uber earns $50.00 in 1-2 hours that is all his or hers. He is sure when gets a fare it is already paid and they are there. At yellow cab (I am using yellow cab generally because they have %75 all cabs in their fleet. When yellow cab (Yellow airport cabs exclusively are single owners) won the airport contract from Stita, They added more than 200 cabs to their fleet at cost of $15000.00 or more joining fee to those cabs plus regular weekly dispatch fee. Their system was already outdated became practically useless. No city or county regulation applied or investigated. By the all those WATS Taxis or Wheel chair Taxis are doing airport trips because they are dual (city & county) plates. When wheel chair passenger is required often stays on the screen not serviced for hours. Yellow cab drivers these days are horrified and simply mad to the point of mentally breakdown from their dispatch system. There is one head dispatch person that majority of drivers, call takers, secondary dispatch wish to be removed. He has held the whole system hostage. He has ordered the call takers they have only spend more than 30 seconds with a caller! He also has told them when the customers demand a non CNG or other small cars because they have too many luggage’s to send them two cabs, even when they are one or two persons! The credit card system at yellow cab at best is illegal. This is one of the reason public like Uber or Lyft. They get in they get out, that is yet and they are willing to pay extra for it. Most areas their system will not run or very slow resulting customer sitting in the cab for more than 5-10 minutes waiting for the driver to get an approval. However most driver give up and let the customer go and some cases later that transaction declined, the driver do not get paid or worse(the illegal part of it) customers get charged twice because the driver didn’t receive the first approval and run it again later in different areas not knowing it had been processed. But he will not get paid for any of them. The cashier does not have authority to simply cancel one of them and pay the driver the correct one. Every yellow cab driver receives an average of $150 or in declined credit card transactions. This put this system in Feb. 2013 and was supposed to be back seat system with printer and new computer system incorporated based on new Wi-Fi android technology. But it didn’t happened, simply because it would make the head dispatch job easy but not irreplaceable.
The Cab drivers has to pay an extra $15.00 per shift, $30.00 per day or $900.00 for renting a CNG car. The city/county gave this to the owners and yellow cab co-op. Why?! I could buy three Toyota Preious on lease with this amount. There are only two CNG Filling station in Seattle area and one of them usually closed for one reasons or other. I have personally received good fares from rejected CNG cabs for reason of long distance (their tank capacity does not have the round trip range) or not enough space for customer stuff. Interestingly the call takers at yellow cab thought the drivers of CNG getting a discount on lease, and they were in disbelieving when they were told they have to pay more. Recently City/ County made it mandatory for drivers to take credit card; In fact the drivers like to take credit card if it works like Uber. Most they do not like it because it take so long to process, they are losing another fare while they are waiting for the system, the customer is in hurry, the police behind them shouting at them for blocking the traffic, no parking space to stop and run the card, …etc. THE MOST OUTRAGEOUSE PART IS WHEN A DRIVER GOES TO RENEW HIS/HER FOR HIRE LICENSE AT KING COUNT WHERE THEY HAVE POSTED THE NEW RULE ABOUT CREDIT CARD, NEXT TO IT AT THE CLERK WINDOWS SAYS:”NO CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED!!!!” I do not know if this is stupide, sad or funny! They have all the means to run the cards, if it declined the driver would be denied of issuing his/hers license, they even could add the processing fee, but simply they do not because they could and the drivers are their mercy. Every time you go they have increased either the license fee or limited the service or add new rule against the drivers. The Taxi drivers do not get anything in return except making it more difficult to earn a living. Except issuing a plastic Polaroid Id Card and their so called Inspectors goes to cab stands and giving them ticket for color of their clothes, ID Enlargement misplaced in the car, they absolutely do not do anything for drivers.
You see Tacoma, Everett, unmarked Taxis work free in the city without fear. The bottom line is that the city/county, even if they are not in the pocket of owners and cab companies, they are morally and criminally incompetent. Buy freezing the Cab Licenses and issuing fir hire driver licenses basically empowers the owners, left no incentives for companies to improve their business. They practically blocked the cab drivers from negotiating and complaining about their service. They have been intimidated, fired or mistreated. Therefore the Taxi licenses even technically is good for only one year,- it is not medallion system-, prices skyrocketed, up to $350000.00/ea. or more have been sold. Majority of 850 or so licenses belongs to absent owners, means they do not drive. They make an average $2500.00 to 3500.00 pure net profits for each cab not even driving. The cab business in Seattle-with the help of city/county- is merely a mafia-type business.
They do not have hit man to kill drivers physically but economically. The few majority owners, they have made millions, some make millions annually, not because they were smart and invented and improved new products, just because of city/county regulations. In no other major city in the nation the regulations are so specifically designed to be disadvantageous for the drives. With the supply of thousands of issued for hire drivers and no taxis available for them they have become practically slaves to their jobs and cab companies and owners. It is for some people have become inhumane. Working 12 hours a day 7 days a week is the only way you get by unless you own your own cab. An Airport cab owner charges his driver in excess of $2500.00 or more per shift while himself driving the best shift. A regular city driver pays $475 to $580.00(for CNG/Hybrid) per week. Most days he takes home $20 or $30 after expenses and occasionally even negative. Unless he is lucky and get a few good trips, which these days as rare as winning the lottery! That is when the question of fairness in respect to these new so called network transportation comes in. Unfortunately the city officials does not have a clue about the taxi industry in their own city, most of them have not taken a cab in their career! You think it would be easy to walk to hundreds of cab drivers in the city introducing them and talk to them; they would be happy and might even give you free ride! They just relay on professionally corrupt, lazy, incompetent people like Dearborn office or city consumer office. When you get a ticket from Dearborn-which their qualification is testing and measuring thus their duty should stop there- there is not even phone number to call them. Or since they have all drivers name and addresses they send them a letter regarding their situation. They just like one end of the law, the stick! Last summer the temperature was around 80-85 when the city or Dearborn office sent a message to driver that they would get a ticket if backseat windows are down uncovering the decal sign about the Airport flat rate. When I told my fare he shouldn’t roll down the windows for that reason, He correctly said this is stupide and…(F words)Fascist!
The city claims that freezing cab licenses protect cab business, I agree, but only cab owners, co-ops and companies. Then why they issued hundreds of For Hire Flat rate vehicles? thousands of town cars.
Apparently there was a demand for more cabs. If there were enough Cabs, there would be new dispatch companies to compete for new business with better services. At the end this unfair regulatory practice creates some bad taxi drivers, bad service, and unhappy customers.
If Taxi driver close to the end of his shift still negative, meaning has not even his expenses, tries to get decent fair and tend to refuse short trips. Remember A taxi driver is not paid by the city, does not get any benefit, social security, health, retirements, sick leave, and if he gets in an accident next hour his career is over and there is no unemployment benefit. This is not to justify any bad service but just a fact. All of these new services have checked and pre-approved, customers, drivers have peace of mind, paid and safe. This is not true for a cab driver, at night the customer sit behind them, who he is, has money or not, he is going to assault him or not, going to federal way paying by credit card is it going to be approved or declined with yellow cab he has not any means to find out-. Then you have customers they vomit in your cab, fart in you cab, some racially and ethnically insult you. Do not just complain about a cab driver and pretend all of them are rude. If being rude and bad service was basis for dismissal more than half city/county employee should be fired without pay! Uber and such companies are Wall Street companies, here to take advantage of drivers and exploit them as well as you. At times you need them desperately they rub you. On New Year’s Eve they were charging $70.00 from lower queen Ann to bell town. $146.00 from 5th and Roy in Queen Ann to Capitol Hill.

Comment from Frank Hardisty
Time March 18, 2014 at 3:20 am

Dear Ms. Clark,

Please stop favoring the taxi owners over the needs of the public.

Your website at http://www.seattle.gov/council/clark/ that you favor “true transportation alternatives for all”. You also state in your blog that one of the goals of the committee is to create “Expanded mobility choices”.

I am afraid that the council’s decision to cap the number of drivers for new ride services moves in the opposite direction. People want to give and get more rides using the new services, and the new rules are stopping them.

Regards,
-Frank Hardisty

Comment from Jim K
Time March 18, 2014 at 1:37 pm

How is this a fix? The only thing that was broken was the taxi companies’ business model that provided an inferior service at a higher (or comparable) price. Never have I witnessed the wishes of a constituency be more ignored over the lobbying of a business group. This was a very sad decision for a city so known for its acceptance of innovation. Consumers didn’t LIKE taxis before, and now that they’ve experienced the kind of product they DO like, there will be even more dislike for taxis going forward. I for one will avoid giving my business to taxi companies at all costs. I fear others will do the same, and in the absence of an acceptable form of transportation we may well see an increase in dangerous driving choices and the incidents and accidents that will accompany that. The council should be ashamed of itself.

Comment from Andrew
Time March 19, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Sally, Amazon put a lot of local bookstores out of business. How about start limiting the number of books Amazon can sell in Seattle to keep Waldenbooks up and running, eh?

This plan is completely backwards and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Comment from Ali Vazir
Time March 24, 2014 at 8:53 pm

Ms. Clark,

Reading your above post, I find certain parts of it offensive to your voters and me. In many ways, given your personal background, your statement reminds me of “Animal Farm” story, where all of a sudden you have allowed yourself to be more equal than others, and feel OK to hurt others.

Allow me to highlight them here; hoping with your good intentions you don’t end up killing people that seek your help because they fear death.

You wrote:

“In Seattle, we’re about to define the regulatory framework under which UberX, Lyft, Sidecar and their followers can operate legally in the city.”

What on planet Earth do you mean by “their followers”? I driver for uberX in Denver, Colorado. I was NEVER a follower of uberX and I never will be. I’m only using my car to drive for them. I’m not following them anywhere. I’m 100% sure those uberX drivers in Seattle are also drivers for uberX. None of them are “followers” of uberX. uberX is not Scientology to have “followers” like Tom Cruz. So what do you mean by followers? Was your intention to insult people like? Or you meant something else?

I sense that you think that people like me think that uberX is like cult. Ms. Clark, using the word “followers” has no other meaning within the context of your post.

If you have such a belief, despite your past working experience in non-profits, you are proving to have zero understanding of people in this sector. Furthermore, you are emitting stubbornness; more resembling spoiled kids who refuse to grow up, based on over-rated assumptions.

I was a cab driver for over five years with two major companies in Denver area. After doing very elementary math, I figured driving as uberX brings me emancipation in terms of financial and personal freedom. Do you consider my action to be a “follower”? Or simply, just like you and anyone else wanting to make my life better?

I compared your statement to Animal Farm story because with your own personal background, you allowed yourself to offend people like me, and seeing yourself more equal, in such a short time! I find that troubling. I hope you take that back.

You mentioned one of your committee’s goals was “Ensure drivers can make a living”.

Ms. Clark, as I mentioned above, for people who seek your help for their fear of dying, your recommendation is simply to kill them so they don’t fear death anymore. That’s the best I can get out of your law making accomplishment.

Your support for limiting uberX-like services literally closes the door for any Seattle taxi drivers–not taxi license holders leasing their licenses—for emancipation by moving to companies like uberX. So you did this favor for license holders and NOT the drivers. You just locked their prison door and threw the key.
Under the name of protecting driver’s interests, you have done more damage.

Ali Vazir

Comment from Daphne Daniels
Time March 24, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Do actual people actually vote for you? Or did you regulate all of the actual voters away from the polling booths? My gosh… who pays your salary?

Comment from Austen CEO
Time March 31, 2014 at 1:02 am

Sally—-You are directly impinging on my ability to do business in Seattle. I’m in Seattle for business often and rely on Uber to get to meetings on time. I’ve found taxi cabs to be often times late and not a reliable means of getting between meetings in Seattle and surrounding areas. Uber solves a fundamental technical problem. Why not also ban antibiotics and microwaves? Every new/great technology causes disruption of existing companies.

Comment from V.P.N.
Time July 1, 2014 at 9:21 am

First, I admire your ability to post comments that are critical on your own blog. That says something!

Now, here are my critiques and questions which will probably sound a bit odd. Why is there a need for such tight regulations, taxes etc. in the first place? And it reads like it is going to grow even more.

Sure some limited regulation is necessary and perhaps a bit more than for personal use. So what is the real long term solution? You say at the beginning this is a band aid, and it is – a bigger band aid.

Why not look at it from a new perspective of starting over from the beginning and doing it right from the start with the goal of less government revenues, and more revenues for the drivers?

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