Learn to trust the Fizz: As we reported on Friday morning, Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are immersed in discussions with city council members over how much information they're willing to divulge about their drivers. The companies, known as ridesharing companies or "transportation network companies," link up drivers, who use their private vehicles, with passengers who book rides via smartphone app.
The council is poised to adopt legislation on March 17 that would impose new restrictions on the currently unregulated ridesharing industry, including, most controversially, a cap of 150 drivers on any single ridesharing system, which works out to a maximum of 450 cars on the road for now, with three TNCs in operation.
The problem is that the city has no way of knowing how many drivers are on a system at one time, and the TNCs have shown little inclination, so far, to cooperate by giving the city access to their internal tracking systems.
Instead, Uber reported last week that it has 900 people eligible to drive for the company, and that 300 are "regularly" logged in at the same time (a term Uber consultant Aaron Toso later told us referred to the number of drivers logged in at once most evenings and some weekdays).
Lyft, meanwhile, said it had around 1,000 users eligible to drive for the company, but did not say how many were typically on the system at one time; Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelan said only that "many [Seattle Lyft drivers] drive with Lyft on their way to work, while they are running errands, or on the weekends to make ends meet."
However, that information is anecdotal and incomplete; real-time data would allow the city to actually track how many people are using a ridesharing system with some certainty about the accuracy of that information.
So far, Uber and Lyft have invited council members to their offices and showed them information about their drivers and insurance, Clark said, but "going to the office and looking at a file is probably not going to do it." Bruce Harrell, who voted against the legislation legalizing and regulating ridesharing companies in committee, went further: "This is really just unilateral information from them ... There is no way to verify it. ... We've been asking [for specific information] for months and months and months."
Clark couldn't immediately be reached for comment. Tom Rasmussen, head of the council's transportation committee (and a ridesharing proponent—he opposed putting any caps on the number of drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft), says, "I think that they need to be open and honest in providing information to the council. If it should turn out that they’re misprepresenting the number of vehicles, that would not serve them well at all" in dealing with the city.
Council member Mike O'Brien, who voted along with Harrell against the new rules (he wanted a hard cap on the number of ridesharing drivers), said the city might consider following in the footsteps of New York City, which just signed a memorandum of understanding that requires ridesharing companies to give the city real-time data on its drivers. "Clearly they’re okay with that if they’ve entered into that kind of agreement elsewhere," O'Brien said this morning.
Additionally, the council is seeking to require all ridesharing companies to provide $1 million in commercial insurance coverage any time a driver is logged in to a ridesharing system, as opposed to when they're actively carrying a customer—a response, in part, to a collision in San Francisco in which an Uber driver struck and killed a 6-year-old girl in a crosswalk while logged on to the company's system.
The council rescheduled its vote on the legislation, which has been in the works for well over a year, for one week because city council member Nick Licata is out of town today. However, council taxi committee chair Sally Clark acknowledged this morning that the brief delay "does give us an opportunity to talk with some of the companies" about providing more information to the city.