MEMBERS of the Seattle City Council have dragged their feet long enough. For months, they have watched the smartphone-powered ride-sharing market explode in popularity. Hard to fault amateur drivers for using their personal cars to meet consumer demand, but they are operating without proper oversight.
Now is the time to legalize services like UBERx, Lyft and Sidecar. Institute sensible regulations to protect drivers, passengers and property.
Follow California’s lead, where the Public Utilities Commission is proposing a new transportation category for ride-sharing companies. Operators would be required to meet insurance minimums, check driver backgrounds and perform drug tests. We should not risk the consequences of inaction. Who’s liable if an accident or crime occurs involving these vehicles?
Taxi operators, some of whom have paid more than $100,000 for licenses, would suffer financially with this approach. They want to preserve their monopoly on the city’s limited number of taxi licenses and stop ride-sharing. Not realistic. Putting their ride-sharing competitors out of business would be a foolish and unfair response to innovation and demand.
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A practical policy response is to lift the taxi cap, ease some regulations or change rules to allow for-hire drivers to pick up passengers on the street.
City-commissioned surveys released last week revealed mass dissatisfaction with taxi services, from lack of availability on busy nights to rude drivers. Respondents gave ride-sharing services higher marks for raising the bar on customer service. Still — they are operating illegally.
The council’s Committee on Taxi, For-Hire and Limousine Regulations is scheduled to meet Sept. 26. Chairwoman Sally Clark says localizing the California model is a strong possibility. She can’t do this alone.
Four other council members and Mayor Mike McGinn are up for re-election and possibly resistant to voting against powerful interests. Budget deliberations begin this month, and they could delay policy reforms until after Thanksgiving.
None of those excuses outweigh city leaders’ responsibility to maintain public safety.
Level the playing field now.