Politics & Government

Tacoma council to vote on new taxicab regulations

The Tacoma City Council could vote this month to unite app-based ride services, such as Lyft and Uber, and taxicabs under the same city code.

The code’s last major change was in 2007 following violence against taxi drivers in the area. Since then technology has changed rapidly, forcing the city to give the code a fresh look.

Uber and Lyft started serving riders here in March. Until now, the city has not regulated the newcomers, which dub themselves “rideshares.” At the same time, current taxicab owners and drivers said they wanted the city to relax some of its rules.

Under the proposal headed to the council, the city would no longer require cameras or silent alarms in cars, for example. Many cab drivers said those requirements were expensive.

Still, cab owners said last week that they were not happy with the changes under consideration because the city wants to keep an upper limit on vehicle age. The proposed code would require that all cars to have been on the streets no longer than 10 years, one year more than the current limit of nine. This rule also would apply to drivers for Uber and Lyft.

Councilman Joe Lonergan, a member of the council committee that recommended the changes last week, said it was never the city’s intent to remove the vehicle age limit altogether.

“We are daily making advances in vehicle safety,” he said. “… I’m sorry the expectation was there that it would go away.”

Council members had previously considered charging all drivers yearly fees of about $150, but app-based companies argued the cost would be too steep for someone who wanted to drive part-time. Under the latest proposal, the city would instead charge a $15,000 fee to rideshares or transportation network companies like Lyft and Uber.

Drivers still will have to buy a $25 business license or $90 if the driver earns more than $12,000 per year.

Michael Mann, who represented Lyft at a council committee meeting last week, that the company is mostly pleased with recent changes to the proposed regulations, which includes the $15,000 fee.

Charging the fee to the company instead of prospective drivers allows “access by a lot of people to provide transportation options for the city of Tacoma and Pierce County residents.”

The code change includes lowering how far driver background checks must reach back from 10 years to seven years, which aligns with policies in other states. Transportation network companies also would have to figure out how to get lost items back to riders and log complaints, as taxi cab drivers already do.

If the City Council approves the new regulations, they would become effective in mid-October.