A Seattle City Council subcommittee recently gave an informal nod of approval to the practice of using smartphones to connect passengers with drivers, recommending the city legalize and regulate ride-sharing.
Members Sally Clark, Bruce Harrell and Mike O’Brien paid little attention to an option that would have banned services like uberX, Lyft and Sidecar — known for cheap fares and reliable pickup times.
But even if tech-savvy ride-sharing patrons get what they want, longtime taxi drivers should not be shoved aside unfairly. Some had to wait years for one of only 336 coveted licenses in Seattle. These highly regulated taxicab operators are struggling to keep pace in a marketplace now flooded with personal vehicles carrying paying customers.
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Previous city leaders created a system that no longer works. Many in Seattle’s fast-growing population do not own a car. Today’s council is under no obligation to preserve a flawed taxi monopoly.
City Hall does have a duty to protect consumers and resolve competitive disadvantages. A fair system should address several disparities, including:
• Taxi drivers pay thousands of dollars a year in regulatory and operating fees that ride-sharing drivers do not. The city must find a way to reduce overly burdensome costs for taxi drivers.
• Lyft, Sidecar and uberX drivers are not subject to city-certified vehicle inspections, background checks and insurance standards. Do passengers consider liability before they jump in cars adorned with pink mustaches? Probably not. But the city must. Make all car services follow the same requirements.
• The council is considering 50 additional taxi licenses citywide. That’s not enough. Milwaukee and Minneapolis officials lifted caps after courts ruled their taxi monopolies were illegal. Seattle should let the market — not lawsuits — decide how many drivers are really needed.
Seattle city leaders should act soon to ensure safe, adequate transportation for passengers and a level playing field for all who provide that service.