The Rapid Evolution of Transportation

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Mayor Murray signs the new for-hire industry legislationNew technologies are revolutionizing transportation in Seattle and elsewhere. It is becoming easier and easier to live, work, shop, learn and play in the city without owning a car, a change that makes Seattle more affordable as car ownership carries many obvious (and not-so-obvious) costs. Nearly 17% of Seattle households do not own a vehicle, according to a recent study. Seattle ranks 10th in the nation in the percentage of non-vehicle households.

Of course, a critical piece of this dramatic change is ensuring a functional and flourishing public transit system. On Thursday, councilmembers will review funding proposals to lessen cuts to Metro bus service throughout the city next year.

This past Monday afternoon, the Council voted 8-1 to advance the transportation evolution by approving a 117-page bill that contains many solid improvements for the City’s regulation of the “for hire” industry, including companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.

First, it puts in place clearer insurance requirements for the new app-based companies, including drawing a well-defined distinction between when a vehicle is being used for personal use and when it is being used for “livery” services. Personal insurance industry representatives praised this “bright, distinct line.”

Second, the bill removes caps on the number of people who can drive for these companies. I opposed the caps in the Council’s original bill and am happy to see them gone. As I’ve written before, I believe that caps make sense in a “walk-up” market but not the pre-arranged “dispatch” market.

Third, the bill provides benefits to existing flat-rate for-hire vehicles and traditional taxis. The flat-rate vehicles will be able to pick up people who hail them on the street; taxis will be given more designated stands and property rights to their vehicle license (sometimes known as medallions), increasing their equity and allowing them to further their business goals. And it will not be long before taxi companies introduce their own apps to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft, which this bill now allows them to do.

Finally, the bill streamlines other regulations throughout the entire for-hire industry.

It likely won’t be many years before this industry is driven by customer demand, easy-to-use smartphone apps or other innovative technologies, and intense competition over who can provide the highest quality customer service.