SEATTLE -- The Seattle City Council has passed a measure that puts some regulations on rideshare companies that use smartphone apps to connect passengers with rides from drivers using their personal cars.
Passed by a unanimous vote Monday, the City Council ordinance caps the number of rideshare cars on the road to 150 per company, meaning the three currently operating companies in Seattle could have 450 such vehicles on the road at any given time. The companies would also have to be licensed, but not the drivers, and insurance would be mandatory.
Politicians in Seattle and throughout the country have been attempting to regulate fast-evolving companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. Because they've been unregulated, taxi companies have seen that as an unfair advantage.
The City Council proposal will also bump up the number of taxi licenses for the city by 200 over the next two years.
The regulations are part of a two-year plan that will be reviewed after one year and are designed to level the playing field for taxi drivers, who have been working under limits and restrictions for decades. But they say the city will not be able to enforce a cab on rideshares.
UberX's general manager says the company will fight the regulations just adopted by the council.
"It's also a huge safety risk for people here in the city. They won't be able to get a ride with the amendment passed. We don't want to leave people stranded on the street. So, we will continue to fight this until the very end," said Brooke Steger with Uber Seattle.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says he will sign the ordinance, but will continue to study the issue.
"I appreciate the council's work, but I don't think it's a long-term solution," said Murray. "I will sign it, but I will immediately start working with stakeholders and our office will come up with a series of recommendations moving forward."
Seattle Councilmember Sally J. Clark, chair of the Committee on Taxi, For-Hire and Limousine Regulations, released a statement following the final vote:
"My experience on Council has been that every few years something about taxi regulations gets to the point where something has to be fixed. Realizing that avoiding a comprehensive fix is no longer possible, today my Council colleagues and I took decisive action.
"What we're voting on today isn't a complete fix, but it's a start. The first meeting of the Taxi, Limo, For-Hire Committee (March 14, 2013), started out of a need to resolve conflict between the taxis and the flat-rates and to better fund enforcement of the rules governing the existing, legacy players. The committee was tasked quickly with a different question: how do we bring new players with different business models into a regulatory framework built for a different time?
"Since that time we've heard hours of testimony at the microphone; contracted for a study of the Seattle market to get a better idea of the demand for alternatives to the personal automobile and bus; and, been deluged with calls and emails. Through all of this we've attempted to ground our work in three goals: Safety, consumer protection, and expanded mobility.
"Customers want more choices and better service. TNC vehicles will now become a legal choice with appropriate driver, vehicle and insurance safeguards.
"The limited access to taxi licenses in Seattle and King County coupled with driver and vehicle regulations that haven't kept up with contemporary service expectations and technology, made disruption not only inevitable, but welcomed by many drivers and riders. We'll change that by releasing more taxi licenses and revamping driver training and vehicle checks.
"We have much more work to do with respect to driver training, safety and customer service, vehicle licensing and re-licensing. We will be working with Mayor Murray as we track the impacts on passengers and drivers. I'm glad to see his commitment to quick and focused revamping of the city's for-hire regulations, and I hope King County regulators, our partners in all of this, are as excited as we are to crack open licensing.
"In cities across the United States and other parts of the globe, companies have chosen to launch first, ask questions later. Every city and state looks to be playing out the same debate as we're having here. In Seattle, we've now defined the regulatory framework under which UberX, Lyft, Sidecar and their followers can operate legally in the city. These rules recognize that times are changing - and that safety and consumer protection never go out of style."