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Originally published Sunday, December 22, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Editorial: City Council Lyft-Sidecar-uberX plan hurts innovation

The Seattle City Council should regulate ridesharing services, but its draft plan to do so is headed in the wrong direction.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE Seattle City Council is on the verge of thwarting innovation with its draft proposal to regulate ridesharing services like uberX, Sidecar and Lyft.

A final vote is not expected until early next year, but last Friday’s unveiling of the city’s plan leaves room for vast improvement. Setting rules is a given, but the council’s blueprint is overly restrictive to the point that these popular app-based transportation alternatives may not survive.

Subcommittee members Sally Clark, Bruce Harrell and Mike O’Brien must remember the city’s role is to protect consumer safety and choice, not the profit margins for incumbent taxi and for-hire companies. The latter are entrenched and upset that their monopoly has been disrupted by the flurry of rideshare vehicles.

The pink mustaches mounted on cars didn’t just show up out of nowhere. An overwhelming demand for affordable transportation has made Lyft’s colorful markers ubiquitous around town.

Council staff members cite California’s effort to regulate rideshares as a model for Seattle. The framework there for “Transportation Network Companies” protects passengers by codifying common insurance standards, vehicle inspections, training and testing for drivers who often use their personal cars.

But Seattle’s proposal is vastly different in that it would limit each rideshare company to 100 vehicles and many drivers to working 16 hours per week.

Lyft, uberX and Sidecar leaders say these conditions threaten their growth in Seattle, where hundreds of people — students, immigrants and struggling workers — would lose the ability to earn income.

Instead of trying to fit a new business model into an antiquated regulatory system, Seattle officials should ease some regulations on taxi drivers and lift the cap on the number of taxis that can operate citywide. That would level the playing field for all ride providers.

Look at limo services. The state regulates this luxury mode of transportation. It places no limits on the number of vehicles that can operate. Business is booming.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s protectionism hurts the city’s reputation for innovation and removes affordable options from consumers seeking alternatives to a struggling bus system and car ownership.

Some passengers note an obvious shift in customer service quality with taxis and for-hire vehicles. Thank the rideshares for injecting some healthy competition into the system.

What do they get in return? A one-way street out of the city.

Seattle City Council, avoid this disastrous route.

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