Politics & Government

Tacoma’s taxi regulations on hold for now

New regulations for Tacoma’s taxi industry will have to wait a little longer as city staff members and council members mull proposed changes.

Taxis have been regulated in Tacoma since around the 1940s, said Danielle Larson with the city’s tax and licensing division.

In April, so-called “rideshare” companies Lyft and Uber started picking up riders in Tacoma. Instead of calling a taxi dispatch company, riders can download a smartphone app, create an account, add a credit card and summon a driver.

The regulations that taxi drivers have followed for decades do not apply to these new companies, which has led the City Council to examine the issue. The city has indicated it will lessen some of the more onerous requirements taxi drivers face, while bringing app-based ride services under the same city taxi code.

The new version of the code lowers fees, removes a requirement for an in-car camera and silent alarm, and does not require a driver to wear a uniform or fill out a daily trip sheets.

Representatives for app-based ride services Lyft and Uber urged the council to take its time with the new regulations.

Caitlyn O’Neill, public policy associate for Uber, said she didn’t like the way the city’s proposed code lumps drivers for her company in with taxi drivers.

“As a technology company, Uber doesn’t own a transportation service or own any vehicles,” O’Neill said. “It does not employ drivers.”

O’Neill said Uber is a software platform that allows drivers to use personal vehicles to offer rides for money.

Annabel Chang, public policy manager for Lyft, echoed O’Neill’s comments and advocated for what she called “casual drivers.”

“Significant fees would pose a great barrier,” she said.

Drivers for Uber and Lyft don’t have to follow any city regulations or pay fees at this time, but if the city adopts current regulations, a driver who owns his or her own vehicle might face paying $150 for various licenses, more if the driver makes more than $12,000 per year.

Ahmed Roble, a co-owner of United Taxi, urged the council to consider keeping the requirement for an in-car camera system to protect the drivers.

“The Uber and the Lyft, they don’t need a camera because they don’t have a cash business,” Roble said. “But a cab, it would be open season for the drivers.”

The city also wants the app-based companies to comply with an insurance standard. Insurance salesman Steve Jones urged caution as the council makes its decision.

“At present I think it’s too vague and it’s going to ultimately have some problems down the road,” Jones said.

Wednesday’s version of the code created more questions than answers for Councilman Robert Thoms.

He said he wants clarity from the state insurance commissioner on insurance requirements for for-hire companies.

No matter what you call the companies or the people who drive for them, “once you put four wheels on the road, you are dealing with some serious stuff that can get serious quickly,” Thoms said.

Revisions to suggested regulations are expected to be heard at a Sept. 3 Government Performance and Finance Committee meeting.