The decision highlights the ongoing contention over the rapid growth of such services, which offer customers rides by connecting drivers with passengers using the Uber and Lyft mobile apps (the cars of the latter are of the pink-mustache-on-the-front variety). The question of how these drivers are insured came to light after a San Francisco Uber driver that may have been off duty (he had no passengers at the time) struck a family in a crosswalk on New Year's Eve and killed a six-year-old girl. Last September, the state of California established ride-sharing regulations designed to codify the emerging peer-to-peer transportation networks in the most populous US state.
As for Seattle, Lyft spokeswoman Erin Simpson, in a statement sent to AutoblogGreen, called the decision "a protectionist move that only serves the existing taxi and for-hire industries" and said Seattle's city council "is crushing new economic opportunities for Seattle residents who have chosen to provide rides to their neighbors." On a March 17 blog post written before the vote was finalized, someone at Uber wrote that such a decision would be "a devastating blow" and would make the service "instantly unusable for tens of thousands of riders." The company didn't immediately respond to our request for comment. For now, you can check out Seattle Councilmember Sally J. Clark's statement about the decision below.
*UPDATE: An Uber spokesman wrote to AutoblogGreen that it was "astounding that that the City Council has chosen to ignore the voices of nearly 30,000 constituents and move to put hundreds of drivers out of work" and added that "this fight is not over."
Seattle - Councilmember Sally J. Clark, Chair of the Committee on Taxi, For-Hire and Limousine Regulations, released a statement today following the final vote on Council Bill 118036, relating to companies and drivers of a new type of for-hire vehicle in order to create a pilot program for transportation network companies (TNCs) and affiliated drivers and vehicles:
"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."