Politics & Government

Tacoma council passes rules for rideshares

The Tacoma City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to bring so-called “rideshare” drivers for Uber and Lyft under the same rules that regulate taxicabs.

Both companies started serving riders in Tacoma in March. Since then, drivers for Uber and Lyft have been operating here unregulated, while competing with traditional taxis.

Uber and Lyft riders install an application on their smartphones and use it request rides. The app alerts drivers, who use their personal vehicles and often drive part time.

The arrival of Lyft and Uber prompted the City Council to take a look at Tacoma’s taxicab laws, which were beefed up in 2007 in the wake of violent attacks on taxi drivers.

The new code, which refers to “for-hire transportation services” to include both taxis and companies such as Lyft and Uber, relaxes some of the rules the city adopted during that 2007 update.

Taxicab owners had requested the council remove some requirements they saw as outdated or expensive. Gone, for instance, are mandates for an in-car camera system or silent alarm.

Drivers for traditional taxicabs will continue to pay driver and vehicle licensing fees, which were reduced to roughly $150 per year, with some fees being paid every other year. App-based ride services such as Lyft and Uber will each pay a $15,000 licensing fee for their drivers.

All drivers, whether taxi or app-based, will have to buy a $25 annual city business license or $90 if the driver earns more than $12,000 per year.

The council also added a 10-cent per ride fee, which will go to an accessible services fund to encourage more wheelchair-accessible for-hire vehicles.

Drivers also will be required to pass a city-sanctioned training program, which includes a defensive driving course, professional conduct and communication skills. The city has long required taxi drivers to take such training.