The Seattle City Council has voted to limit the maximum number of drivers that can be on the road for each of the so-called ride sharing services to 150 at any one time during a contentious meeting Thursday.
The 5-4 vote capped a nearly year-long debate about how the city should regulate the upstart services Lyft, uberX and Sidecar, which have made significant inroads in the Seattle market.
The city has been trying to determine how best to allow the companies to operate while protecting the existing taxi industry, which is heavily regulated.
Taxi and for-hire car companies have argued the unregulated ride-share companies have an unfair advantage and are killing their industry, while the ride-share companies argue limits on the number of drivers will force them out of business.
“Limiting taxi competition by imposing caps goes too far. It eliminates choice for customers and drivers,” Councilman Tom Rasmussen said as the Council debated the new ordinance.
Rasmussen was joined by Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, Jean Godden and Sally Clark in voting for the limit, which was a compromise aimed at heading off an effort by other Councilmembers who wanted to cap the total number of drivers across all of the companies at 400.
Councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata and Bruce Harrell were those favoring a total limit of 400 drivers.
Sawant argued the caps are necessary to protect existing taxi drivers while they adjust to the changing business climate.
“If there are no caps, TNC’s (Transportation Network Companies – the term used for the ride-share companies) will flood market with their drivers, existing taxi drivers will not get business. TNC drivers will also not have enough drivers. Corporations will still be making money, that’s all they care about.”
The council’s taxi committee was also moving to set insurance requirements for the TNC’s and their drivers along with requiring annual payments similar to licensing fees paid by taxi companies.
In a statement following the meeting, Uber blasted the council vote.
“It is extremely disappointing that the Seattle City Council Committee on Taxi, For-hire and Limousine Regulations has chosen to ignore the tens of thousands of their constituents who support uberX and, instead, decided it is a good policy to protect the taxi industry and effectively shut down uberX in Seattle as we know it. This decision will put hundreds of small businesses out of work and leave them without an opportunity to earn a living,” said Brooke Steger, Seattle general manager of Uber. “The Committee has sent a strong message that they support the status quo over opportunity, transportation choices and safety. We hope when these regulations come to the full Council that innovation and safety win the day.”
While all City Council members took part in the meeting, the final measure will still need to be approved next month. The two-year pilot program would take effect 30 days after Mayor Ed Murray signs it into law.