Lawmakers should have the state Department of Licensing regulate uberX, Lyft and Sidecar rideshare services.
JUST about every form of private transportation is subject to state rules, from limousines and taxicabs to party buses. The whole point is to protect drivers and consumers.
This session, Washington legislators should add ride services such as uberX, Lyft and Sidecar to the list of regulated industries.
These “transportation network companies” arrived in Seattle nearly two years ago, but are expanding to cities around the state. The genius of this smartphone-powered revolution is that drivers can now use an asset they already own to connect with people who need a ride. Drivers love the flexible hours and ability to make money part-time or full-time. Passengers appreciate having an alternative to car ownership, public transit and taxi companies, which were slow to adapt to new technology.
Seattle officials quickly recognized that this disruptive but innovative network would be difficult to stop. After a hard-fought compromise that took months to broker, Mayor Ed Murray announced a compromise last summer. City officials tried to level the playing field for existing taxis and for-hire drivers — long subjected to onerous regulations — to compete with the newcomers.
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State Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, is sponsoring a bill this session that would set insurance and safety requirements at the state level instead of a patchwork of policies by cities. It’s a smart move as the ride services try to expand — and consumers are hungry for options. The networks may not like stringent rules, but lobbyists for Uber and Lyft agree the companies need clarity to ensure they are in compliance.
SB 5550 would require the state Department of Licensing to license transportation network companies, as it already does for taxi and limo drivers. Companies would conduct background and vehicle-safety checks, and provide commercial insurance coverage as long as drivers are signed into the smartphone app. Cities would be authorized to charge registration fees to pay for enforcement costs.
Drivers and owners of taxicabs can’t be happy about changing up the status quo, but all sides must adapt. That doesn’t mean ride services get away with easier rules. Government rule-makers should ensure taxis can still compete by offering them more flexibility and getting rid of outdated regulations.
Seattle officials have expressed concerns that the city’s hard-fought plan would be superseded by state law. Habib is making a good-faith effort to allow local jurisdictions to tailor aspects of the law, including enforcement.
That’s fine, but one city’s interests should not hold up the needs of other communities looking for ride-service guidelines and more transportation choices.