By Lynn Thompson
The Seattle City Council on Monday approved new regulations for app-dispatched ride services, largely adopting a compromise proposal brokered by Mayor Ed Murray in June that lifted caps on ride-service vehicles while increasing insurance requirements and awarding new licenses for taxis.
The council considered more than 30 amendments to the legislation, but in the end added mostly technical changes that didn't alter the substance of the proposal.
"We're very, very happy that the ordinance passed. We're thrilled that people in Seattle will have more transportation options," said Brooke Steger, general manager of Uber in Seattle.
The lone no vote came from Councilmember Mike O'Brien, who said he was concerned the insurance provisions still weren't adequate. The ordinance requires the ride-service companies to match the level of coverage in state law for taxis and for hired cars of up to $300,000.
Those requirements are in effect through the next legislative session, when city officials hope the state adopts uniform insurance requirements for all transportation companies.
O'Brien said there could be gaps in coverage when a driver is between calls. He said he didn't want a repeat of the San Francisco accident in which the family of a girl killed by a ride-service driver not on the clock received only $15,000 from the driver's personal-liability insurance.
The amendment to increase the insurance coverage failed on a 5-4 vote, with Councilmembers Bruce Harrell, Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant voting with O'Brien to increase coverage and Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, Jean Godden and Tom Rasmussen voting no.
The City Council in March approved new regulations for ride-service companies that capped the total number of cars on the street at the same time for each service at 150. Uber, Lyft and Sidecar quickly mobilized a referendum campaign and submitted enough signatures in April to block the new regulations from taking effect.
Mayor Ed Murray convened representatives from the ride-service companies, taxis and for-hire cars and after almost two months reached an agreement that did away with the caps.
The compromise proposal also called for the city to issue 200 new taxi licenses over the next four years. No new licenses have been granted since 1990.
For-hire cab companies will now be allowed to pick up passengers on the street except at taxi stands. Taxi licenses will become medallions with the value of property, allowing owners to borrow against them to maintain their cars.
"We're hoping to use it to improve our business because now they have a value that wasn't recognized before," said Amin Shifow, the new general manager of Yellow Cab.
He added that the new ride-service companies have forced taxis to adopt new technology and innovations. "We will be much more competitive," he said.
The new rules also impose a 10-cent fee on all rides originating in Seattle to help defray the higher costs of operating wheelchair-accessible vehicles. City officials estimate that the surcharge will raise about $850,000 a year.
Councilmember Sally Clark, who led the council's original attempt to regulate the ride-service companies, said the compromise legislation allows for innovation while still addressing the city's concerns about insurance and the ability of drivers to make a living.
"This landscape will continue to change. We will continue to check back to make sure the ordinance matches up with safety, with consumer protection and with advancing transportation options in the city," Clark said.
(c)2014 The Seattle Times