On Monday, July 7th, the Seattle City Council voted 6-3 to lift a restriction for rideshare companies that capped their fleets of active vehicles at 150 each, which had been previously imposed earlier this year. While some on the council have voiced concern over how the resolution could affect smaller taxi dispatch companies, Mayor Murray and representatives from both traditional for-hire taxi companies and rideshare services like UberX and Lyft have stated that the move marks a step forward in making the industry competitive and fair to all parties.
The decision to lift the cap came after a signature gathering campaign conducted by rideshare companies, resulting in an agreement brokered by Murray that allowed for both traditional taxi services and rideshare services to operate with the same set of benefits and restrictions. Included in the agreement is a requirement to have UberX and Lyft drivers become licensed and insured, a clarification of existing insurance laws, allowance for rideshare companies to have hailing rights, and the addition of smart phone services for companies like Yellow Cab.
“The agreement honors the taxi industry’s historic role in Seattle as a key component of the city’s transportation infrastructure and as a vital source of jobs, particularly for Seattle’s immigrant communities. It also embraces this rapidly transforming industry and recognizes that Seattle must stand at the forefront of innovation and not impede new ideas or add the burden of unnecessary regulations,” said Murray. “I am grateful for the willingness of all of the parties to come together in the spirit of compromise and consensus in order to find common ground.”
Councilmembers Kshama Sawant, Mike O’Brien, and Nick Licata voted against the measure, with socialist member Sawant likening UberX and Lyft to large companies like Wal-Mart that force smaller competition out of business.
“I do not want to be strong armed by corporations,” Sawant said after the vote.
Brooke Steger, General Manager for Uber Seattle, responded to the criticism by stating that many drivers from traditional cab companies have moved to Uber due to their business model allowing a cash-free transaction that reduces the threat of robberies, and also allows for Uber partners to operate with a greater degree of freedom than what had been previously available.
“Uber plays a really big part in building small businesses. We partner with hundreds of small businesses in Seattle, and as a driver in the Uber system, you own your own vehicle, you’re your own partner, you set your own hours, you’re free to run your business as you see fit and it enables these individuals to have the freedom of owning their own businesses. In legacy systems, you have set shifts and have to pay a lease at the beginning of the week, so you start off the week $600 in the hole. We don’t take a fee off for trips you didn’t take, and it enables a level of freedom for drivers that we haven’t seen in Seattle before.”
While it remains to be seen how popular the newly-developed apps for traditional cab companies will be when competing with Uber and Lyft, Steger stated that the level of safety that these apps allow for on the consumer side is a large component of why they have become so popular in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and Downtown.
“Capitol Hill is definitely one of the most popular pick-up and drop-off locations in the city,” Steger said. “A lot of people use the app after getting a few drinks, and the hopping bar scene of Capitol Hill definitely plays into it. It offers a lot of safety to the client so they can wait and track a car instead of waiting on a street corner for too long.”
Additionally, Steger cited the current movement among Seattleites to reduce use of personal vehicles and instead use rideshare service in conjunction with mass transit and bike share programs as well due to dissatisfaction with the reliability and customer service of traditional taxi services.
“We have a great technology platform that we’ve put a lot of resources into developing that was revolutionary when we first launched it, and we attempt to innovate and bring it to the next level,” Steger said.
“We also are very committed to our customer service, and every inquiry that comes in is responded to within 24 hours. We’re also very committed to making sure that the quality of drivers is very high, and that feedback you leave after every trip is looked at it to provide constructive feedback to drivers. Our commitment to customer service really improves the process, and the experience is very positive.”