As has been documented, Seattle has a brewing controversy on its hands thanks to ride-sharing services like Lyft and Sidecar. According to frustrated taxi drivers and the union that represents them, these newfangled app-based services allow unqualified drivers to get in on the ride-giving business without being subject to the same costly licensing or inspections from the city that heavily regulated traditional taxis face. So far, the Seattle City Council has been described as “on the fence” when it comes to whether or not to regulate and legalize the burgeoning business model the same way taxis are.
Eleven hundred miles away, in Los Angeles, a more definitive stance has been taken.
According to Dennis Romero of the LA Weekly, today Los Angeles Department of Transportation taxicab administrator Thomas Drischler issued a cease and desist letter to ride-app outfits, accusing them of, “... operating an unlicensed, for-profit commercial transportation service in the City of Los Angeles.” Drischler writes that, “In the interest of public safety, Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar are hereby directed to cease and desist from picking up passengers within the City of Los Angeles.”
According to Katherine Schubert-Knapp, communications director for Seattle’s Department of Finance & Administrative Services – the agency tasked with ruling over taxis in the Emerald City – the situations in LA and Seattle are different. For starters, she says LA categorizes ride-sharing vehicles as taxis, while in Seattle they’re considered “for-hire” vehicles. This means that in Seattle licensed taxis can pick up people who flag them from the street or simply call, while for-hire vehicles aren’t allowed to pick up passengers in this fashion; their trips must be prearranged. Schubert-Knapp also points out that both taxis and for-hire vehicles are required to hold licenses allowing them operate legally in the city, but that the ride-sharing companies currently operating in Seattle are not licensed to operate here and right now there is no way for additional for-hire drivers to become legal even if they wanted to because there’s a cap on licenses.
So would Seattle ever consider going the LA route, and issuing a similar cease and desist against ride-share outfits?
“Not at this time,” says Schubert-Knapp.
“We understand that licensed taxi and for-hire drivers are frustrated. The Mayor and Councilmembers have heard firsthand from various industry representatives of the frustrations felt on all sides. The Mayor and City Council are empathetic to the situation being caused by the rapidly changing taxi and for-hire industry landscape, and are trying to come up with an equitable solution,” she tells Seattle Weekly via email. She notes that the council’s “Committee on Taxi, For Hire and Limousine Regulations” is waiting on the results of a demand study currently underway before it makes decisions regarding potential regulation changes. Results of that study are expected later this summer.
“Until then,” Schubert-Knapp says, “the Department of Finance and Administrative Services will continue enforcing the laws on the books with the resources it has.”