App-based ride services get smooth ride here

ryan.tarinelli@thenewstribune.comJune 20, 2014 

App-based ride services have sparked controversy elsewhere, but in Tacoma, the city’s discussions about how to regulate the new arrivals appear to be proceeding relatively conflict-free.

“I appreciate what’s happening in Seattle, but I don’t think we need 22 stakeholder meetings to get to a solution,” Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said this week.

A Tacoma City Council subcommittee is considering a proposal to bring taxis and companies such as Uber and Lyft under virtually the same regulations.

The result would be a new set of rules that would lower requirements for the taxi industry while imposing the city’s first regulations on so-called rideshare companies.

During a Wednesday meeting of the Government Performance and Finance Committee, representatives of the taxi industry and rideshare companies both expressed support for the city’s approach.

“We feel like this proposal creates consistency, and is written relatively simple,” said Dustin Lambro, a political coordinator with Teamsters Local 17, a taxi labor union in King and Pierce counties. “Our interest all along from the driver perspective is ensuring that there is a level playing field across platforms.”

In Seattle, app-based ride services collected enough signatures in April to block the City Council’s regulations limiting each service to 150 drivers.

Mayor Ed Murray earlier this week announced a compromise, the product of a 55-day negotiation involving app-based ride services and the taxi industry. The deal, which would lift the cap in exchange for tougher standards on app-based services and concessions for taxi drivers, has to win council approval.

Tacoma’s proposal offers much of the same meet-in-the-middle approach.

It would require app-based drivers to pass written exams, maintain daily trip sheets and display a license sticker issued by the city. The app-based ride services would also pay new fees under the proposal, including annual vehicle and driver fees.

In turn, the city would remove regulations that require taxi drivers to have digital cameras, maps and monitored silent alarms in their vehicles.

The new rules also would allow taxi drivers to operate older cars, increasing the maximum age of a taxi from 9 to 10 years. And cab drivers could purchase cheaper insurance, provided the policies had the same amount of coverage.

City Council members were generally supportive of the proposed rules at Wednesday’s meeting, but wanted additional time to get more information about background checks on rideshare drivers and to clarify what kind of insurance the state requires.

If passed by the council, the new regulations would be enforced throughout Pierce County. A County Council decision last December transferred the licensing and regulation of taxis to Tacoma.

The City Council committee plans to continue discussion of the new regulations at its July 16 and July 30 meetings.

Brooke Steger, a general manager with Uber, said the company is happy with the proposal, but would like to see more distinction between taxi and app-based ride services in the city code.

Uber also supports statewide regulation that would allow it to easily operate in cities across the state, Steger said.

Ryan Tarinelli: 253-597-8670

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