Mayor Ed Murray weighed in today on the city council's vote last week to regulate so-called ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, allowing the companies to co-exist alongside traditional taxis. The new restrictions include everything from new, stricter insurance requirements (something Murray had pushed for) to mandatory training to an increase in the number of taxi licenses, but the debate was over whether the city should put a hard cap on the number of ridesharing drivers.
In the end, the council's taxi committee voted to cap the number of drivers who could be on any single TNC system at one time at 150, effectively limiting the number of TNC drivers on the road, for now, to 450 (150 for each of the three ridesharing companies operating in Seattle.)
Murray previously told PubliCola he opposed any a cap on rideshare drivers, arguing that the more options people have to get out of their cars, the greater the "environmental good." It's the basic sharing economy argument: 20 people using one car to get around, whether it's a taxi, a Car2Go, or a pink-mustachioed Lyft car, means 20 people who aren't driving their own polluting, traffic-congesting cars.
Ultimately, however, Murray said he'd be willing to consider a temporary cap while a stakeholder group came up with a compromise proposal that both the taxi industry—which sees companies like Uber and Lyft as unfair competition—and ridesharing companies could agree on. "We helped negotiate a cap on the number of vehicles ‘live’ on the TNC system at any given time, which is more reasonable and more flexible than a cap on the number of drivers. And we helped negotiate a cap that, while lower than I would have liked, is temporary."
"Even though we’ve seen this explosion in the TNCs, during that same period of time, taxis have continued to grow in their own revenues. That speaks to the second good, which is that we have a city where fewer people are owning cars and fewer people are driving cars that they own, which is why we’re seeing more taxi rides," Murray said at the time.
As we reported in Fizz yesterday, we'd been hearing that Murray did not plan to veto the council compromise. (If he had, the council, which split 5-4 on the proposal, would likely be unable to muster the 6-vote supermajority needed to overturn a mayoral veto.)
Today, Murray elaborated on why he can live with the compromise, despite the fact that it includes a quasi-cap.
Noting that the legislation also includes some provisions for which taxi drivers advocated—including broader access to insurance, a shorter training course for people seeking for-hire licenses, more taxi licenses, and street-hailing rights for for-hire drivers (who currently must respond to calls).
In a statement, Murray said: "It was my goal to avoid caps on TNCs, which I do not support on principle. However as a short-term measure, I can support a reasonable, temporary cap. We helped negotiate a cap on the number of vehicles ‘live’ on the TNC system at any given time, which is more reasonable and more flexible than a cap on the number of drivers. And we helped negotiate a cap that, while lower than I would have liked, is temporary.
"I also believe, that after twelve months, it only makes sense to look at the data to determine the impacts of the TNCs on the industry and assess whether the temporary cap level needs adjustment."
The full council will take up the TNC/taxi legislation at its 2:00 meeting on Monday.