Dozens of taxis encircled City Hall this afternoon, blocking traffic on surrounding streets, to protest the city's continued failure enforce current laws and crack down on illegal competition. As The Stranger has previously reported, Seattle's regulated taxi industry—the only vehicles legally allowed to pick up hailing fares—has long complained about illegal competition from for-hire drives, limousines, and out-of-town taxis.
"Seattle's become chaos and lawless like Mogadishu city where I came from," one Seattle cabbie lamented during public comment at an April 4 Seattle City Council hearing. "It's like Somali pirates."
- If there's a working class protest somewhere in Seattle, Socialist Alternative council candidate Kshama Sawant always seems to be there.
"Our very industry is at stake!" Taxi driver Joe Blondo said in a July 25 email to fellow drivers, urging their participation in today's protest. "We must stop the City & County from pushing us around!"
A preliminary draft of a "demand study" is expected to be presented to a council committee at public hearing on August 8, and the general expectation is that the study will recommend increasing the size of the fleet. How this might be split between taxis and for-hires is anybody's guess, but with only three inspectors on staff to police violations, the larger issue will remain enforcement. "Our enforcement capabilities have not kept up," admits Mayor Mike McGinn: "It's time for the city to take a new look on how we regulate all of them, and also be prepared to enforce the regulations."
That's exactly what the council is doing. But all involved admit that it's a very complicated issue whose resolution likely won't leave anybody happy, especially once you add in the challenges of dealing with unregulated "ride share" services like Sidecar and Lyft.