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Jason Rantz

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Rantz: Mayor to make Seattle affordable again – with a $3 Lyft and Uber tax?

Uber and Lyft drivers push for better pay. (AP)

As the Seattle City Council and mayor’s office decry the housing affordability crisis that they created, the city is gearing up to unveil a new tax scheme. The tax would, ironically, make it more expensive to live in Seattle.

I recently took part in a nearly 20-minute long phone poll to discuss an idea to tax $1-3 per Uber or Lyft ride. They called me on my cell phone, which indicated it was from an “Unknown Caller.”

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The tax talking points, according to the poll, would be to raise $50 million to invest in public transportation, which includes better perks for drivers and to build affordable housing near transit. Further, messaging tested on me included the perk of resulting in fewer cars on the road and better bus access (with more frequent buses running). At one point, they mentioned money raised might go to health care for workers.

The poll ran through a series of tax scenarios, including $1 tax when using the carpool options on Uber and Lyft and a flat $3 tax as a single rider. At the end, it pitched Mayor Durkan’s congestion fee plan, which would charge people to drive through Downtown Seattle.

The pollster asked me three times throughout the 19-minute phone call if anything we discussed changed my initial opinion of the tax. It did not. I was against it from the first question to the last.

The poll question positioned carshare drivers as victims of greedy corporations where drivers don’t earn the same benefits as city workers, including no guarantee of a minimum wage. They asked my thoughts on Mayor Jenny Durkan, the council, and labor unions.

This isn’t the first time this idea has been polled.

Back in September, 2018, I discussed on the show two tips from listeners saying they participated in a similar poll. At the time, the listeners said the talking point was more focused on helping the homeless. That issue did not come up with this poll.

It’s unclear who is behind the poll. While the mayor’s office says the city didn’t pay for the poll (“There is no city-funded poll on this policy issue”), I’ve been told by a few sources that it’s being done on Durkan’s behalf; she supports the idea.

According to The Seattle Times, Durkan has long considered this tax, working on it as early as last August. Durkan’s office, and the Seattle Department of Transportation, blames increased traffic congestion on carshare rides, not the city’s owned flawed strategy of removing congested car lanes for under-utilized bike lanes.

And, the mayor’s communication’s director, Mark Prentice, appeared to embrace the idea in an emailed statement:

In the last decade, Seattle grew by over 100,000 residents, and we know that ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uber are having an impact on congestion downtown. Uber and Lyft created 24 million rides in Seattle last year, and circling or idling cars are slowing down buses, and clogging streets and the curb.

We also know that as Seattle grows, we face a crisis of congestion, crowded transit, and housing options for low-wage workers like preschool teachers.

We continue to meet with community members and stakeholders on potential policies to address the impact of Lyft and Uber on congestion, and help address our need to keep transit moving, to invest in more transit options like buses, and invest in more housing near transit.

No final decisions have been made at this time.

I’m hearing Durkan will unveil some version of this plan in the coming months. This will undoubtedly inspire a big fight from the carshare providers, much like Amazon’s resistance to the job-killing head tax. Up to $3 for a single user? That would be a nightmare.

This Uber tax would make the cost of living in Seattle even more onerous, particularly on the younger demographic that use Uber and Lyft to get around the city since bus service is reliably poor. And when they find out about this additional tax on their rideshare service of choice, it doesn’t take a high-salary consultant to predict what will happen: another revolt, much like what we saw with the disastrously unpopular job tax. And it’ll happen just in time for the council election.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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