Taxicab drivers urge Tacoma to regulate rideshares

Tacoma News TribuneMay 7, 2014 

Tacoma’s taxicab code could be headed for an overhaul, council members indicated Wednesday night.

Several cab drivers and owners urged Tacoma City Council members to keep the playing field level for both taxi drivers and those who work for so-called “rideshare” companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.

The council members on the Government Performance and Finance Committee said for-hire transportation services are part of the city’s transportation network. Mayor Marilyn Strickland said she wants passengers to have safe transportation options.

“There are times when demand spikes, so there is a place in this market for more than one type of car,” Strickland said.

She also said the new entries to the taxi business have been spurred by innovation in technology. Tacoma’s taxicab regulations went into effect in 2007, the same year Apple sold the first iPhone. Now smartphones are ubiquitous and finding a ride is as simple as summoning a driver with an app.

Cab drivers say companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are bypassing regulations meant to keep drivers and passengers safe.

To be a licensed driver in Pierce County, taxi drivers must pay an annual license fee of $175, pass an annual background check, attend a one-day class and pay $50. A cab must also have a camera, an alarm system and must be connected to a 24-hour dispatch system. State law also requires a $55 annual license. There are also business license requirements.

About 115 cabs are licensed with the city. But so far, no drivers for what the city calls “transportation network companies” have filed a business license with the city, said Danielle Larson with the city’s tax and licensing division.

Cab driver Micael Abraha, who drives for United Taxi, said taxis have a regular rate, but these new companies can charge more when demand is higher, called “surge pricing.”

“The citizens, they get ripped off because they don’t have a regular rate,” Abraha said.

Anthony Clinton, who owns and operates a car for Fair Fares Taxi Cab in Tacoma said taxi operators have to take a class, which teaches drivers public relations, knowledge of popular tourist spots in Tacoma and defensive driving.

“These rideshares are going to cripple the cab companies because they are completely unregulated,” Clinton said.

Nobody from the new for-hire services spoke at the meeting, at which council members made no decisions.

Councilman Joe Lonergan said he wants the city to have a solid safety standard for drivers of all for-hire vehicles.

In March, the Seattle City Council voted to cap each rideshare service at 150 drivers. That same month, Uber announced it was coming to Tacoma, followed shortly by Lyft and Sidecar.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542

kate.martin@thenewstribune.com

@KateReports

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