Editorially, we weren't in favor capping the number of people who can drive for "rideshare" companies like Uber and Lyft. Our take: Rather than reining in new economy upstarts, the city should take the opposite approach—finding inspiration in the competition by freeing up the taxi and for-hire industries with more licenses for taxis and hailing rights for for-hire cars. 

However, we were, actually, pleasantly surprised by Seattle City Council member Sally Clark's compromise, which rejected a hard cap on rideshare drivers, instead capping the number of drivers (150 per company) who could be on the road at any one time. 

The taxi and for-hire industries are mad that the city didn't put a hard cap on the rideshare companies and the rideshare companies are still claiming that the flexible cap is a devastating limit. (That complaint from the rideshare faction is annoying to listen to, given their refusal to give the council any data on the number of drivers.)

Good on Clark for for calling b.s. on the rideshare companies' caginess while—not catering to the taxi monopoly—also creating breathing room for this new industry.

Her compromise also freed up taxis and for-hire drivers by adding 150 new taxi licenses over two years and allowing for-hire vehicles (two-toned cars run by companies like Eastside For Hire) to pick up riders who hail them on the street; currently, for-hire cars can only come when people call them or summon them with an app like Flywheel.

Mayor Murray told us he was against caps—he suggested a task force, of course, to study the issue and was okay with temporary caps while the city sorted things out. We think he should simply sign off on the compromise.In Seattle, 25 percent of Lyft drivers are women, and 35 percent are people of color. 

A minority faction of council members—the two people of color on the council, Bruce Harrell and Kshama Sawant, along with the two lefties, Nick Licata and Mike O'Brien—didn't support Clark's compromise because, in part, they felt there was a racial justice issue: The taxi and for-hire industries are dominated by immigrants. And the yuppie-esque sharing economy version, they say, was threatening their hard-earned turf. (Of the more than 2,500 licensed cab drivers in King County, 27 percent are Indian, 23 percent are Ethiopian, 20 percent are Somali, and just 11 percent are from the U.S., according to data from 2008.)

At last week's meeting, where she abstained from voting on Clark's compromise measure, Sawant said, "The question of the caps is a question of whether or not the council is willing to put in place a stopgap measure at this moment in order to make sure that already marginalized communities are not further marginalized." She added that the council was adopting the legislation "on the backs of people who have already mortgaged their lives in order to drive a taxi."

And Mike O'Brien wrote a guest op-ed in the Seattle Times arguing that the city needed to protect the industry because it was made up laregly of immigrants and refugees.

Check it out though, Josh had some friends in from out of town this weekend, and they caught an UberX car to and from his apartment on Saturday night, eventually heading back to their Red Roof Inn by the airport so they could catch their 4:00am flight.

Josh had filled them in on the big debate, and they, quizzically, informed him that the guy who drove them to his apartment was an immigrant.

And then this text came in after they seamlessly cued up their ride with the UberX App and caught a late night ride to Sea-Tac.

The conversation continued:

That's certainly anecdotal, but we requested stats from Lyft and Uber this morning. We haven't heard back from Uber yet, but here's what Lyft said—the last stat being the most on point:

• In Seattle, 25 percent of Lyft drivers are women. 

• Nationally, 33 percent of Lyft drivers are women, and just under two-thirds of passengers are women. 

• Also, in Seattle 35 percent of Lyft drivers are people of color.


Photo by Josh Feit

But the stats on women drivers are also important to this debate. (UberX's spokeswoman told us in January' that 10 percent of their drivers were female.) 

As we've noted before, women feel more comfortable driving for services like Lyft and UberX because they don't carry cash, making it less likely they'll be robbed, and because each transaction is booked in advance via smartphone and traceable through the company's booking system. That eliminates a lot of the personal risk involved with picking up random passengers on the street (taxi drivers are required by law to pick up anyone who hails them).

Those concerns aside, it's not as if Seattle's taxi industry has been particularly welcoming to women. As council member Sally Bagshaw (who opposed any caps on rideshare drivers) noted in last week's taxi committee meeting, less than one percent—one percent!—of Seattle's taxi drivers are women.

"I want to see more women driving, which means, frankly, since the cabs and the for-hires haven’t done it, that we [need to] open up the door for the TNCs to encourage more women drivers," Bagshaw said. 

UPDATE:  In a letter responding to O'Brien's Times editorial, Uber pointed out that 75 percent of uberX drivers are East African and 20 percent come from Indian and Pakistani descent.

Brooke Steger, Uber's Seattle manager tells PubliCola:

"The majority of uberX drivers are immigrants from East Africa and the Middle East. We are seeing an increase in female drivers. Approximately 50 percent of uberX partners are also former taxi drivers. We believe we are seeing this shift because of both the flexibility and ownership uberX offers to drivers as well as the level of safety and accountability it offers to riders and drivers."

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