Saturday afternoon I heard the Seattle City Council President being interviewed on KIRO-FM, the monitor accusing her of stifling competition. Yesterday in the December 23rd edition of the Seattle Times, their lead editorial "City Council Rideshare Plan Hurts Innovation" rails against any suggestion that Lyft, Sidecar and Uber-X should be subject to the same kind of regulation governing all commercial and public transportation infrastructure in the United States, be it taxi companies and airlines and trains and buses or horse-drawn carriages traipsing through NYC's Central Park. The mere suggestion of any kind of parity ignited a firestorm of criticism. Why would government, they shout, intervene against an economic and cultural innovation revolutionizing transportation as we once knew it, labelling it as blasphemous bureaucratic overreach.
Beyond the blather and hyperbole the question persists just why should any Federal, state, county or municipal official accept an unlicensed and unsanctioned incursion into a regulated industry? Radio personalities, especially one making constant reference to the "disco jacket" he was wearing, can be ignored but it is a different story when the editors of a newspaper touting its "Nine Pulitzer Prizes" embrace the uninvited illegal entry into a regulated market.
Minus local licenses and permits the ride-share industry entered urban transportation markets across the country in cities like Seattle and Denver and San Francisco and Austin, thumbing their noses at anyone questioning their purpose and motive. With religious-like fervour they chanted their new app-smart phone-based dispatch services were metaphysical in scope, expanding mind and spirit all the while simultaneously building community and cooperation. Turning reality upon its head, Lyft and its ilk have suddenly become the aggrieved party, thwarted in its gratuitous attempt to free the rider-public from taxi-bondage. If it wasn't so sad it would be humorous.
How and why can this be true? I suggest that everyone grab their nearest Webster's and look up the definition of "criminality" because it is clear what the ride-share industry is doing, first staking a claim then acting surprised anyone would object. What comes to my mind are images of post-American Civil War carpetbaggers descending upon a devastated South and more modern, corporate raiders taking over an unwilling company. What I find puzzling is why are these millionaires muscling in upon the very modest taxi industry, taxi never to be confused with multi-billion corporations unless perhaps you add up all those over-valued medallions in NYC. Whatever the final outcome is, I will always wonder why anyone is bothering with such small economic potatoes. It is a mystery.
Perhaps the most misleading part of the Seattle Times editorial is it missed that the City Council ride-share proposal essentially destroys the local taxi industry as we now know it, opening the market to unlimited numbers of quasi-taxis. Missing entirely in their argument is that the current proposal allows any holder of a City of Seattle for-hire driver license to drive beyond any 16 hour per week limit.
What the City Council is really saying is that anyone, Lyft, Sidecar, Uber-X, you, me, the "fool-on-the-hill" can contract with 100 drivers with City of Seattle for-hire licenses and operate unfettered in Seattle. It also appears, unlike taxis, you can set up whatever rate you wish.
An example of that just happened when Uber-X and Alaska Airlines teamed up this week to offer totally free rides to Sea-Tac on the 23rd and the 24th. How can the taxi industry compete with free rides? We can't and no small business owner can. What may be true is that the ride-shares are the transportation equivalent to Walmart, underpricing the competition and killing the local business community. Is this what the Seattle Times is advocating? It appears to be whether they know it or not.
The City of Seattle Responds
Last week I got what essentially was a formalistic response from the City Attorney's Office, advising me to contact the very same parties who are not enforcing current City of Seattle laws and regulations. I found that curious and will be sending a detailed response later this week.
More interesting was an email I received from the City of Seattle Customer Service Bureau saying they will be contacting me and actually issued me a tracking number monitoring my complaint. I can only assume my comments have gotten someone's attention which is logical considering that the City of Seattle is potentially and theoretically liable for millions of dollars in potential damages. Again, I will keep everyone posted concerning any new developments.
Happy Holidays everyone!