Morning Fizz: Higher Standards
Caffeinated News & Gossip featuring aPodments, taxis, bikes, and teachers.
1. aPodment Update
Last June, the Seattle Planning Commission sent the city's Department of Planning and Development a list of recommendations for regulating microhousing developments, AKA "aPodments" (they suggested that aPodments should have to go through design review but should not have parking requirements, among other proposals). Yesterday, they issued two additional recommendations, most of which would require microhousing buildings to meet higher standards than what's currently required.
• Make the threshold for full design review (a process that requires public notice and allows community input) higher for very large aPodment buildings, so that they're subject to the same standards as regular large multifamily buildings. "[If] micro-apartment developments are treated differently (a speedier, less costly, and less risky path to completion than other development types) then the code will create a preference for this housing type in the market."
• Require more communal space than the 120 square feet per unit, including a communal kitchen, that DPD recommended.
2. Taxi update
A new study commissioned by the city shows high demand for non-traditional taxi services—such as Lyft, Sidecar, Uber, and for-hire limo-style services—and also concluded that people who ride in taxis, as opposed to "taxi-like services," generally get worse service than those who use alternatives.
The city council is trying to figure out how to regulate the currently unregulated market for taxi alternatives. Last night, consultants from the Taxi Research Partners and the Tennessee Transportation & Logistics Foundation presented their findings to the council.
The study found that among institutional car service users (like hotels and hospitals), 102 of 105 negative comments were about conventional taxi drivers; meanwhile, 15 of 16 positive comments were about non conventional services like Lyft and Uber.
"Secret shoppers"—regular individuals—also tended to have more negative opinions about taxis than about non-taxi services. In general, the study found that taxi drivers were less prompt, less willing to take credit cards, less courteous, and less likely to be willing to provide short trips than other types of car services.
"The taxi industry has a perception problem in addition to an operational one," said James Cooper, a consultant with Taxi Research Partners. "Expectations are low but service is worse."
A crowd of for-hire drivers (not the Lyft folks, but the standard car-service drivers) wearing green T-shirts that read, "Got Fairness? For Hire," seized on the negative reviews of traditional taxis. After the presentation, they testified that the council should end the "artificial protections of the status quo," as one for-hire advocate characterized it (taxis have flagging rights while for-hire drivers don't).
Without acknowledging what amounted to a Yelp-like trashing, the taxi advocates were unfazed and framed the debate along class lines. "This is a conversation about the contrast between those who are making a little extra money for their trip to Brazil and those who are making money to support their families," said Dawn Gerhart, a representative with the Teamsters Local 117 (which represents taxi drivers), referring to Lyft and Sidecar drivers. "This is a conversation about accountability, or lack thereof; about respect for the laws of our city or lack thereof."
New services such as Lyft and Sidecar—where people who own cars use an app to get customers and a dickered fare—are different than the formal for-hire model, which, more like a traditional limo service, involves phone calls and scheduling. However, both industries are challenging the embattled and regulated taxi business.
The council plans to take up potential new regulations in January, after they adopt next year's budget in November.
3. Cascade Bicycle Club update
Cascade Bicycle Club, whose ongoing search for an executive director to replace longtime ED Chuck Ayers we wrote about in August, announced yesterday that it is replacing Ayers with Elizabeth Kiker, most recently the executive vice president of the League of American Bicyclists, a national bike advocacy group.
Prior to taking a job with the League eight years ago, Kiker—who grew up in Houston—worked as a spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association, a pest-control lobbying group, and the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, which represents companies that sell after-market auto parts.
4. Seattle Schools Update
The Seattle teachers' union voted last night to ratify a new two-year contract. Our coverage of last night's vote and the terms is here.