The Politics of Rideshare Regulation

The Politics of Rideshare Regulation

By April 7, 2014 Featured No Comments

Seattle is an iconic city.  It’s known for grunge music, the Space Needle, and its residents’ never-ending thirst for high quality coffee or craft beer.  In addition to the attributes that define the city’s culture, it also has an economic character.  This is the birthplace of creative start-ups, and innovative tech giants.  We are home to an accomplished life sciences sector, and it’s common for our businesses to look beyond the Pacific Ocean to new markets.  Most Seattleites are generally aware of their city’s economic prowess and take subtle pride in the fact that much of the country considers us forward-thinking.

2014-4-7 Ride SharingBut a recent unanimous decision by the Seattle City Council seems to run counter to Seattle’s heritage of fostering innovation.  On March 17 Seattle became the first city in the country to limit the availability of new rideshare services and other on-call transportation network companies (TNCs).

Most urban dwellers are familiar with and welcome the proliferation of TNCs like Uber, Sidecar, and Lyft.  Seattle-based technology news site GeekWire catalogued what it called a social media “firestorm” in response to the Council decision.  Geekwire’s unofficial poll suggests that capping each TNC to 150 drivers at any given time barely enjoys double digit public opinion support – just 11.5 percent approval. [image credit Alan Berner, Seattle Times]

It’s worth noting that while most of the coverage of this sausage-making is focused on the impact of caps on drivers and consumers, councilmembers were also working to address legitimate concerns related to vehicle safety, maintenance requirements, and minimum insurance coverage standards.  It’s also likely that the regulation will evolve over time.  The current ordinance is designed to serve only as a two-year pilot program.

How TNC regulation will change and who will be in a position to implement changes remains an open question.  Two years is just a bit longer than the remaining duration of current councilmembers’ terms in office.  In 2015, seven of nine councilmembers will face re-election in newly drawn council districts.  At least five seats will be filled by representatives from neighborhoods relatively removed from the cab-filled streets of downtown.  Transportation studies suggest that their constituents drive less than in years past and want more affordable transportation options. [image courtesy Lyft]

It’s far too early for Election Day predictions, and council-members still have plenty of time to prove their allegiance to Seattle’s innovative spirit by maneuvering on this issue and others, but one thing is for sure.  As @Uber_SEA tweeted after news of the Council vote broke, “This fight is not over.”