Gotta give Uber and Lyft credit. In addition to providing a great service (and I don't dispute that in most cases the customer experience is clearly superior to that offered by traditional taxis), they've also put together a top-notch PR and lobbying campaign in defense of their self-interest.
These companies entered the Seattle market appearing to skirt rules that were originally designed for cabs, town cars, and for-hire vehicles. They didn't care. They counted on the city's inability to mount an effective regulatory response, and then used that time to build a loyal following of drivers and customers. Then they leveraged this base to pressure the council to legitimize their business. For example, with the following robocalls:
Lyft and Uber have spent big money hiring PR flacks and lobbyists with close ties to city hall and to editorialists like me. They did a great job. And the companies have largely been rewarded for their efforts.
I'm not sure what will happen with today's council vote. I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of council members bucked the recommendations of the three who have worked the hardest on this issue, and reject even a temporary cap on the number of TNC (Transportation Network Company) drivers. I can only hope that there is still a majority for imposing a level playing field on training, licensing, and insurance requirements.
But whatever the council decides, and whatever its ultimate impact on the taxi industry, I can't help but come away from the process somewhat irritated at the way the TNCs bullied their way into the market. A city that unapologetically pepper-sprays peaceful protesters blocking a city street, celebrates entrepreneurs using these same streets to run a questionable business. Go figure.