For the second year in a row, North Seattle Rep. Scott White (D-46) is proposing legislation that would crack down on the largely unregulated town cars that prowl around places like SeaTac Airport and the downtown ferry terminal offering to carry passengers for the same rate as a taxi.
The legislation would allow the city, the Port of Seattle, the state patrol, or King County to regulate and license town cars the same way taxis are currently regulated; it would also provide the city with some funding to enforce the new regulations. Taxi drivers argue that the town cars, whose operators pay a fraction of the fees taxi drivers do annually, eat into their business. Additionally, White says he's gotten numerous calls and emails from constituents who say they've been harassed by limo drivers at the ferry terminal or the airport.
"This is really about safety," White says. "If you're a sole proprietor and you’re running your sedan as a quasi-taxi-for-hire, we need to make sure you have a driver's license, we need to make sure you have insurance, we need to make sure that you're qualified" to operate a town car.
Although the city testified in support of the legislation last year, White says Mayor Mike McGinn has shown "less interest in the bill" than the Nickels administration.
In an email, Seattle Office of Intergovernmental Relations director Marco Lowe said the city is "still working with the stakeholders," including traditional taxi drivers and town car operators, "to reach a consensus bill" in advance of a hearing on the proposal in Olympia tomorrow.
"Any time you’re going to increase regulation or fees, there’s always going to be some stakeholder who’s going to be opposed," White says.
The city's official 2010 legislative agenda, which includes McGinn's name on its cover, explicitly calls for "restor[ing] local regulatory oversight and enforcement over towncars and limousines, as existed in the past."
The bill will get a hearing in the house transportation committee at 3:30 tomorrow afternoon. The mayor's lobbyist, Craig Engelking, will attend, although it's not clear whether he'll testify either for or against the legislation.