Taxi drivers sound off at city hall over ride sharing

by: David Ham Updated:

Taxi protest
SEATTLE —

Taxi drivers lined the street in front of Seattle City Hall honking their horns in their cabs, while other drivers stood on the steps holding signs demanding the city enforce its current laws.  "The city finds a way to find a level playing field for metered taxi cab drivers and their families so that working 12 hours a day means they're going to be able to provide for their families," said Dawn Gearhart with the Western Washington Taxi Cab Operators Association.

 Car-sharing services like Lyft and Sidecar argue their drivers who use their own cars to pick up passengers accept donations, and is not like a normal commercial service. However the city says the services are illegal because a service is being exchanged for money. Lyft says its suggested donations are about 20 percent cheaper than metered cab fares.

UberX, another service under Uber, uses drivers who use their own personal hybrid vehicles to pick up passengers. Brooke Steger with Uber argues the company prefers its drivers to be a licensed chauffeur. She also says there are strict standards for a car to be used for the service. "Uber has been conducting the same car inspections the city does and we have denied a number of drivers who hold chauffeur or for-hire licenses to drive an UberX because of more rigorous background/driving record checks than the state runs to issue their licenses," said Steger.

 But drivers like Salah Mohamad, who has been driving a cab for 13 years, say that's not the point. "We not asking for any handouts, we not looking for extras, all we saying is enforce the law," said Mohamad. He says city inspectors need to make car sharing services are regulated just like metered cab drivers.

 The unregulated drivers are eating into a lot of the cab drivers' business. "We used to work eight or nine hours now it's 12 to 13 hours," said Paul Singh, who has driven a taxi cab for 10 years.

 The City Council has commissioned a study to find out how many people are using the new car sharing services and new-car services to change the way the laws are regulated. Until then, the Department of Finance and Administrative Services says it's difficult to enforce the current laws. "The Department of Finance and Administrative Services is enforcing the laws on the books with the resources it has. Even if it were easy to identify these vehicles - and with the exception of Lyft it's not - the conundrum right now is there is no way for additional for-hire drivers to become legal even if they wanted to because there's a cap on licenses. We understand that licensed taxi and for-hire drivers are frustrated. The mayor and council members have heard firsthand from various industry representatives of the frustrations felt on all sides. The mayor and City Council are empathetic to the situation being caused by the rapidly changing taxi and for-hire industry landscape, and are trying to come up with an equitable solution," said Katherine Schubert-Knapp, a spokesperson for the Department of Finance and Administrative Services.

 "This is a good example of the city reacting and not being proactive. We have new markets being entered now with these new ride share services," said council member Bruce Harrell. Harrell also hopes to work on a temporary solution for enforcement before the new regulations are created.

 The results of a study looking into the use of the new car sharing and car services is expected to be presented to the council in August.