A noisy rally of taxi operators and drivers outside City Hall on Monday escalated tensions among three kinds of vehicle services competing to pick people up in Seattle: taxis, for-hire vehicles and ride-sharing companies.
Joined by a short parade of taxicab drivers honking in support along Fourth Avenue, about 20 taxicab operators and drivers represented by Teamsters Local 117 said the city’s lack of monitoring
of for-profit ride-sharing and for-hire services is unfair to law-abiding taxi drivers.
“All we’re saying is enforce the law!” taxi driver Salah Mohamed shouted at the City Hall rally.
The Western Washington Taxicab Operators Association brought to the mayor’s office a petition with more than 500 signatures on it asking for that change.
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The city has three inspectors available to monitor 195 for-hire vehicles, which are legally prohibited in Seattle from picking up people who hail them on the street and can only be dispatched to pick people up.
The city has not yet regulated or penalized ride-sharing services like Lyft, Sidecar and UBERx, despite its finding that it is illegal for the services to use drivers and vehicles that do not have for-hire licenses.
But city laws regulating taxis, for-hire vehicles and for-profit ride-sharing services may be changing by the end of the summer.
The increasing popularity of ride-sharing companies that use smartphone applications to quickly and affordably pair riders with drivers nearby has prompted the City Council to reconsider which services will be legally allowed in Seattle.
Councilmember Sally Clark said she hopes the council starts making some of those decisions by the end of the summer. But first, she said the council wants to finish an in-depth analysis of demand in the Seattle metro area. Part of that analysis is an online consumer survey, which can be found at bit.ly/11xk8a9.
Also at the rally was a group of the same for-hire drivers the taxi operators railed against. Samatar Guled, president of East Side For Hire, is hoping for more regulation of new ride-share services as well, but said the taxicab association’s claims about for-hire drivers were misleading.
Guled said the taxi operators complaining about for-hire drivers at the rally mostly represented people who own one of the city’s 688 taxi vehicle licenses, not the more than 2,000 drivers who compete to lease the vehicles from those operators. The city has not given out new taxi-vehicle licenses in more than 20 years. Guled asserts that has increased the value of each license to about $360,000.
Guled pointed out that City Council committee meetings about taxi and for-hire services are standing-room only because drivers care more about what’s being discussed there.
“When it’s important, they show up,” Guled said. “They didn’t today because this is just a misleading commentary on the whole situation.”
Denise Movius of the city’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services said the city has not increased the number of taxi licenses because, so far, there’s been no evidence there’s enough demand to justify doing so.
She said the average taxi-response time in Seattle is still 10 minutes — contrary to what many Yelp reviewers of local taxi and for-hire services say.
The results of the consumer-demand survey upon which the City Council will base its regulatory decisions are expected to be released in August.
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.