What a difference a year makes. Last March, when the Seattle City Council first convened a special committee to study taxi regulations, the issues before it seemed intractable.
Taxi operators were demanding a crackdown on flat-rate/for-hire cars picking up hailing customers, among other issues, while struggling flat-rate/for-hire drivers were demanding the same rights as traditional taxis to pick up hailing customers. There seemed to be no way to make both sides happy.
"I'd love to be presented with that problem again," Committee on Taxi, For-Hire, and Limousine Regulations chair Sally Clark sighed wistfully about her original mission. A year later, the surging popularity of unregulated "rideshare" services like Lyft, Sidecar, and uberX (redubbed "Transportation Network Companies," or TNCs) has flipped the industry on its head, uniting taxi and flat-rate/for-hire operators against a common foe. At stake is the survival of the traditional taxi industry—and the interests of the consumers it exclusively serves—as well as that of its trendy new competitors promising better service at an unregulated price.
Those TNCs are popular, yes—just look at those pink mustaches everywhere—and they've hired themselves some high-priced lobbyists. But at a packed committee meeting on February 14, they faced organized opposition from the established taxi industry. So the council canceled a vote and postponed legislation for two weeks while they wrestle with the thorniest question: Should the city place a limit on the number of TNC drivers (which currently proliferate in numbers the companies won't disclose), and endure the backlash of customers who find them faster and more efficient than traditional taxis?