Seattle, King Co. Mull Ways to Regulate Rideshare Services

Aug 28, 2013

Taxi drivers are finding more competition on the road these days.  New smartphone-based ride-sharing services are giving consumers a lot of options.

But the highly-regulated taxis call the development unfair since the new companies don’t have to play by the same rules. Both King County and the city of Seattle are trying to figure out how to respond.

You could call it the invasion of the pink mustaches. If you’ve driven around Seattle lately, you’ve no doubt seen cars sporting the fuzzy additions on their front bumpers. The cars belong to the drivers, and pretty much anyone can sign up and agree to pick up riders as part of a service called Lyft.

It’s just one of several such companies that have started doing business in the area in the last six months. As with the other services, such as Sidecar and Uber, everything you do, from scheduling, to paying you can do from your smart phone.

In a YouTube promotional video for Lyft, the companies promise users more than just a ride.

“What blows my mind is the connectivity, the passengers and the drivers getting together,” says one enthusiastic rider on the video.

But, social connectivity aside, taxi drivers in the Seattle area say what the companies are offering isn’t that different from regular cab service—getting someplace for a fee.

Testifying before the King County Council on Tuesday, Dawn Gearhart, who represents the Western Washington Taxicab Operators Association, said traditional taxis have to meet strict regulations.

“They’re subjected to rigorous background checks, fingerprinting, English tests, ride-alongs with county officials, and this happens on a yearly basis. And they have to have a video camera in every single taxi cab that’s licensed in King County,” she testified.

The response from cities across the country to this dilemma has been all over the map. New York and Washington, D.C. declared the new rideshare services illegal and staged raids on them. In California, the state figured out a way to regulate them.

King County and Seattle, which share regulatory authority over taxi services, plan to come up with a rideshare service ordinance by November. As one King County council member put it, “what we’re dealing with here is an entire industry in transition.”