The council's special taxi committee is scheduled to vote on legislation on Friday that would place new limitations and regulations on ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, although committee chair Sally Clark indicated this morning that there might be a delay because of proposed amendments; we have a call out to Clark.
Things are moving fast as all sides mobilize in advance of the vote.
1. In a letter to Mayor Ed Murray and the city council, more than five dozen business, tech and financial leaders from around Seattle raised objections today to council legislation that would crack down on companies like Lyft and Uber, which currently operate in Seattle unregulated, by limiting the number of hours their drivers could operate to 16 per week (or requiring them to get a for-hire driver's license, at a cost of several hundred dollars and two days' training), and by limiting the number of ridesharing cars to 300 citywide.
The letter—signed by folks like venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, tech investor Tom Alberg, and UW vice provost Linden Rhoads—reads, in part:
Dear Mayor Murray and City Councilmembers,
We the undersigned are leaders in Seattle’s growing technology community. We love living and working in this city because of its entrepreneurial spirit, its deep pool of talent, and its commitment to innovation. That is why we were so concerned to see recent proposed regulations that would essentially make it impossible for ridesharing and Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Lyft and Uber to continue operating in Seattle.
These companies are pioneering groundbreaking innovations in harnessing technology to improve the efficiency of the existing transportation system. That is exciting. And the rise of carshare, bikeshare, and rideshare operations provide multiple opportunities for urban dwellers to adopt more sustainable transportation options. This emerging urban transportation revolution is directly benefiting our quality of life, and is an integral part of what makes Seattle such a great place to live and work.
The City Council’s draft legislation, unfortunately, is all about stifling these new transportation choices. Sharply restricting the number and hours of operations of TNC drivers, as has been proposed here, would destroy the promise of this innovation by stunting its development and evolution, if not killing it outright.
That’s the wrong approach, and we respectfully ask you to change direction. Please encourage this sort of transportation innovation, not try to cap it. Let’s foster free and fair competition between all transportation modes, rather than attempting to stifle progressive change and preserve an outdated status quo. If you do that, we believe taxis, for hire vehicles, limousines and rideshare services will all provide Seattle residents with better service.
2. Over the weekend, NPR's "Planet Money" ran a podcast—titled "When a $65 cab ride costs $192"—defending Uber's controversial "surge pricing" system, which increases fares during times of peak demand, such as during NYC's recent snowstorm.
Uber argues that they're simply creating an efficient market, by adjusting supply to demand. (The number of people willing to drive during a snowstorm, for example, increases in response to the incentive of higher profits, allowing people able to pay access to cars when they most desperately want them).
3. PubliCola got a letter today from the Seattle-King County For-Hire Vehicle Association—a third player in the car-for-hire landscape whose members feel they're subject to undue regulations, such as the fact that they can't legally pick up hails.
The council has proposed giving for-hire drivers, who charge a flat rate, the ability to pick up customers who hail them on the street, instead of just people who call them in advance, and to line up at places from which they're currently restricted, like hotels and bars. They're also considering expanding the number or for-hire licenses in the city.
In their letter—in addition to supporting those proposals—the group makes the case against "surge pricing," arguing that it's unfair because when surge prices are in effect, ridesharing cars are accessible only to those who can afford to pay them.
"On New Year's Eve, Uber imposed its 'surge pricing' and charged about $16 per mile in Seattle, meaning it would cost $100 to travel six miles versus $18 in a For Hire car. You can expect surge pricing in Seattle when it rains, during any holiday, college and professional sports events, etc... The 'rideshare' system works great, if you have significant available credit on your card."
4. At this morning's council briefings meeting, new council member Kshama Sawant said there was no argument, "from an economic perspective" for companies like Uber and Lyft, which offer "expensive conveyance" to people who can afford it. Uber and Lyft, Sawant said, "are underwritten by major financial corporations like Goldman Sachs, and at the end of the day it needs to be about the interests of working people."
Council President Tim Burgess cut Sawant off, noting that ridesharing isn't on today's council agenda. Here's The C Is for Crank's take on ridesharing (spoiler alert; I'm all for more options, innovation, and disruptive technology).