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Why Seattle taxis are still surviving despite Uber and Lyft

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The taxi industry has inevitably taken a hit from the advent from Uber and Lyft, but in Seattle, cab drivers are still somewhat sustaining.

According to The Seattle Times, while the Seattle taxi industry plunged 56 percent between 2012 and 2015 to $43.9 million, data from 2018 indicates a rise to $52.5 million and the fleet of city-licensed taxis that’s grown to 844.

For KIRO Radio’s John Curley, both the city and the Seattle taxi industry brought such troubles on themselves by talking advantage of passengers in the years before Uber and Lyft came on the scene.

“There were 515,000 residents in 1990 and then by 2012 there were 634,000, right? So we had increased almost 100,000. Guess how many additional cabs the city allowed to be on the roads? The answer is zero,” Curley said. “Why? Because that way, everybody was able to take advantage of the the passengers because we had a limited amount of supplies, and demand increased. So the city loved it because the cabs loved it.”

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“The city and the cabs were in cahoots against the consumers, and then all of a sudden, the interruption of Uber and Lyft came in, and they’re like, ‘Hey, save us everybody. Save us as you did before when you reduced the supply as demand increased.”

Many Seattle cab companies automated their dispatching and developed their own apps as a response, and Seattle officials are discussing the possibility of regulatory changes that could help taxi drivers compete.

“It looks like they’ll be able to hold on because they have old-timers — legacy users they’re called — that always use taxis,” said co-host Tom Tangney. “They also have contracts with the city to pick up people, the disabled, the kind of people that have a harder time getting around.”

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“But there’s still only 800 or so taxis on the road. And there are thousands of Uber and Lyft availabilities. So the wait time is always going to be longer for a taxi than Uber.”

In the meantime, despite taking a chunk out of the tax industry, companies like Uber and Lyft have seen a slowing of their expansion due to their cheaper fares, the Times reports, which required them to take losses and ultimately cut driver pay, leading to a backlash from drivers and fear from investors.

Listen to the Tom and Curley Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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