Does Today’s Victory For Rideshares In Seattle Spell Disaster For Taxi Drivers?

It’s official: Rideshare companies like Lyft, UberX, and Sidecar are legal in Seattle. Mayor Ed Murray signed into law this morning a bill passed 8-1 by the City Council yesterday afternoon that makes it so. It’s being heralded as a grand compromise. No caps. No problemo. The pink mustaches are here to stay.

The specifics of the new rideshare regulations - or lack thereof, as some would argue - have been discussed before. As mentioned, no caps will be placed on active rideshare drivers - a point included in the Council’s previous plan that led to much consternation and initiative threats. As a trade-off, over the next few years, 200 more taxi licenses will be released by a city that hasn’t released a new taxi license in over two decades, and all taxi licenses will become the sole property of the drivers/operators. For-hires, meanwhile, are given the right to pick up street hails. And insurance and licensing requirements for rideshares are hammered into place. “It’s great,” Brooke Steger, Uber’s Seattle general manager, says via Crosscut. “Today’s Council vote was one for the history books,” Mayor Murray said in an official statement.

So everyone’s happy then?

No, of course not.

Just last month Dawn Gearhart, a spokesperson for Teamsters Local Union 117, which represents the just over 500 local taxi drivers of the Western Washington Taxicab Operators Association, told Seattle Weekly that the drivers she helps represent took what they could get in the Murray-brokered deal. “The likelihood of there still being a [rideshare driver] cap was very low,” Gearhart explained of the bargaining process, saying the Western Washington Taxicab Operators Association wanted a cap, but “knew that the mayor was not in support” of one. Realizing this, Gearhart explained that the taxi union’s official stance became: “If [no rideshare cap] is going to be the reality moving forward, how can we make the best of it?”

According to Gearhart, making the best of it meant securing the new licenses and making all taxi licenses the sole property of the operators who own them. In a fight where many taxi drivers felt doomed, at least the added opportunity and job security meant something, right?

Joe Blondo, a longtime Seattle taxi driver - and easily the most opinionated cabbie I know - isn’t so sure. Where Gearhart says the Taxicab Operators Association took what it could get, Blondo - who has no union affiliation - says cabbies got downright screwed. On his blog, Real Seattle Taxi, Blondo has frequently sounded off, as recently as last week calling Murray’s deal “the public beheading of the taxi industry.”

“How can they believe that we accepted remaining ‘capped’ while Uber, Lyft and Sidecar enjoy unlimited entry into our regulated market?” Blondo says of the compromise deal. “This belief, plain and simply, is total fantasy and nothing else. Does the mayor and the council think we are suicidal? I can strongly affirm to the contrary that we are not. They’re making this into a war. We have been left no alternative but to defend ourselves.”

How taxi drivers like Blondo choose to defend themselves in the new world of legal ridesharing remains to be seen, but in his most recent blog post he says he’s heard rumors of a referendum effort to reverse yesterday’s council decision - funded by a local taxi organization.

Collectively, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. As Councilmember Bruce Harrell said during yesterday’s proceedings, “Let’s work together. ... Let’s make Seattle better for a robust transportation network, let’s employ some people, let’s please some customers.”

Let’s move forward, in other words. For all parties involved.

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