As we reported in Fizz this morning, the city council's taxi committee voted last night to adopt compromise regulations on "ridesharing" services like UberX and Lyft, which had been previously been operating unregulated. (The companies are also known as Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs).
The rules include everything from new insurance requirements to mandatory training to an increase in the number of conventional cab licenses in the city, but the biggest point of contention was whether the city should put a hard cap on the number of cars or drivers allowed in the city. The options on the table last night ranged from a cap of 400 TNC-affiliated cars (a cap that would have allowed more than one driver to use a car, provided he had a for-hire driver's license) to a proposal to have no caps at all.
The Clark compromise started out with just two votes (Clark and Jean Godden), but all three council members who supported a no-caps policy came over to Clark's side once their proposal failed. In short, the Clark option will cap the number of drivers who can be active on any one TNC system at a time at 150—for a total of 450 drivers for the three TNCs that currenlty exist here. (Clark originally proposed a cap of 200, but the council ended up adopting Tom Rasmussen's lower number). Crucially, it won't cap the number of people who can sign up to drive for a TNC, just the number on the road at a given moment.
Clark says she doubts that more than 150 Uber or Lyft or Sidecar vehicles are typically active at one time; the ridesharing industry disagrees, and says the legislation will put them out of business. (So far, they've refused to provide the city with any data about their driver base).
Mike O'Brien, Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata, and Bruce Harrell, who all wanted firm caps, abstained from voting on the legislation. The taxi industry is unhappy, too; they wanted hard caps on an industry they say creates unfair competition and threatens their bottom line. And four members of the council are also less than thrilled—Mike O'Brien, Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata, and Bruce Harrell, who all wanted firm caps, abstained from voting on the legislation.
Some would say, of course, that universal dissatisfaction is the sign of a good compromise.
We asked Clark this afternoon whether she was satisfied with last night's vote, and how she responded to some of the criticisms from advocates for both TNCs and taxis.
Here's an edited version of our conversation.
Are you happy with the compromise the committee ultimately agreed to?
Clark: "Happy" would be not the term I would use about any of this.
Everyone at the table was doing their level best to do what they think was the best opportunity for drivers to make a living. Some wanted to limit the number of endorsements [TNC vehicle licenses] so that drivers have leverage over companies. What I couldn’t get around was the administrative burden for the city to figure out how to account for the number of those permits that sit on the side when somebody gets a new job, or just doesn’t like it, and you no longer have enough drivers in the tanks to provide good service.
If [the companies] would provide us some numbers we would know whether we picked the right amount.[The compromise says], take whatever opportunity you can to get onto a TNC. We’re not guaranteeing that you can get on all the time, but you will certainly be able to get on some of the time.
Again, if [the companies] would provide us some numbers we would know whether we picked the right amount. Looking at the app at a particular time, I have no idea how many of the cars that are on the app, that I can see, what total of the universe that they represent is, because the cars that are actively driving someone don't show up. It would be great for them to actually come and talk to us about that. I’d love to know. We’ve been asking over and over.
Can the city force them to provide that data?
Clark: If they choose to operate under the safety regulations and get licenses, there are requirements that they need to be forthcoming with their data and have their numbers auditable. I don’t think anybody is assuming that they’re going to show us the magic computer code. I don’t want the magic computer code. But I believe the total number of drivers out there for Uber or Lyft don’t come anywhere near 150. I hope the companies get serious and provide us with that data.
How do you respond to charges that this hurts low-income immigrants who typically drive cabs?
If we’re about trying to provide opportunities for people to earn a living by being on the road, opening it up is the way we're headed.
I think it’s much more nuanced than that. I think the number of drivers who are migrating across platforms to access hours, to try to get hours on the road, makes it a much more complicated thing. Both Uber and Lyft have people of color driving their cars, they have immigrants driving their cars. If we’re about trying to provide opportunities for people to earn a living by being on the road, opening it up is the way we're headed.
Finally, I asked Clark how the hell she managed to go from two votes—a tiny minority—to a five-vote win. Did she orchestrate the whole thing like a chess game?
Clark's response: "In trying to figure out how it was going to come about, I already knew there were only three votes for no cap at all (Tim Burgess, Tom Rasmvussen, and Sally Bagshaw).
Either those guys vote no on everything else, or they decide to throw in with whatever they think is the next best alternative.
I thought it was the next best alternative because instead of limiting the total number of drivers who can access this work, it gives drivers the opportunity to be active on the system."