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Originally published Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 4:32 PM

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Editorial: End taxi monopoly and protect rider safety

Placing a cap on the number of ride-sharing vehicles in Seattle does not improve consumer safety. It kills an emerging business model, protects an outdated taxi monopoly and gives people fewer options to get around.

Seattle Times Editorial

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WHEN Seattle began to regulate the taxi industry decades ago, it created a monopoly. Now is the time for city leaders to fix a system that no longer works for consumers who want more transportation options.

Services such as Lyft, uberX and Sidecar disrupted the market in 2013 by offering affordable ride services hired with the tap of a mobile app.

On Thursday, the Seattle City Council’s Committee on Taxi, For-Hire and Limousine Regulations should send legislation to the full council that legalizes these new ride-sharing services and ensures the safety of drivers and passengers. New rules should remove any caps limiting the number of taxis or new services.

The three committee members Sally Clark, Bruce Harrell and Mike O’Brien all want to cap the number of ride-sharing vehicles at 300 or 600 licenses for two years. That is a misguided proposal that would protect the taxi companies’ hold on the market and reduce choice for consumers. Sidecar says it has 1,000 drivers in the Seattle market. UberX and Lyft have many more.

The committee plans to create a new category for ride-sharing called Transportation Network Companies. The guidelines are based on California’s rules, which require background checks, training, liability coverage and no cap on the number of licenses.

Clark, Harrell and O’Brien should follow California’s model and remove the proposed limit. City Council members Sally Bagshaw and Tom Rasmussen oppose a cap.

Let the market determine how many vehicles should be on the road. Don’t limit growth. Focus on consumer safety.

Discussions on insurance gaps must continue in light of accidents involving ride-share drivers in other markets. Lyft has started a committee to find some clarity. Seattle leaders should join that effort.

Ride-sharing quickly gained a following because it keeps more cars off the road and gives drivers a chance to make a living with an asset they already own. Like the taxi industry, many drivers for these new services are immigrants. The council should beware of picking winners and losers.

City Council members have a duty to set some rules for ride-sharing, but they must avoid policies that inhibit innovation and enterprise.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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