Seattle’s new regulations on rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber were supposed to take effect this week, but now they’re on hold. That’s because a group, backed by rideshare businesses, has filed signatures for a ballot referendum to bring the rideshare rules to a public vote.
The rules passed by the Seattle City Council require safety training for rideshare drivers, inspections for their vehicles, a $50,000 annual licensing fee for the companies and a cap on the number of drivers “live on the system” at any one time for Uber or Lyft, among other provisions.
Brad Harwood is the spokesman for “Keep Seattle's Ride Options,” which is a coalition supported by the rideshare companies. The driver cap was one of the most controversial provisions for City Council members. Harwood said the companies object not just to the cap but to numerous aspects of the regulations. “They’ve been very up front in saying the ordinance, as is, would limit their ability to function within the city,” he said.
His group just filed more than 36,000 signatures to bring these rules before Seattle voters. “We were able to turn over twice as many signatures as required, and people seem eager to talk about the future of mobile app ride services in Seattle,” Harwood said. The referendum could end up on the ballot in August or November.
Until now rideshare drivers haven’t been subject to any city oversight, while taxi and for-hire drivers have complained about unfair competition. But City Councilman Mike O’Brien said the city has the ability to enforce rules for all for-hire drivers, including rideshares, even while the specific rideshare regulations are on hold.
He said rather than leave rideshares unregulated for the next several months until a possible vote, the city should enforce regulations around safety. “I think the city needs to step up right away,” he said. “While we wait to see how the rest of the story plays out, it’s important that the public safety, the consumer, the driver safety is protected in the interim.”
Meanwhile Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement Thursday that rideshares and taxi companies have agreed to enter a 45-day negotiation process with him. City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said the city should hold off on any enforcement of rideshare companies while the mayor tries to make some progress.
“I think it’s too soon to discuss whether or not enforcement actions should be taken,” he said. “If everyone’s working in good faith and working quickly to resolve the outstanding issues, then I think that’s the route that we should take. As long as it doesn’t compromise public safety and health.”
Harwood said the rideshare companies have been focused on submitting the necessary signatures for the referendum, but they are also open to working with the mayor. He said they’re hoping for a workable solution through either path.