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Originally published March 13, 2014 at 4:36 PM | Page modified March 13, 2014 at 5:28 PM

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Editorial: Let market drive Seattle rideshare services, but ensure safety

The Seattle City Council should focus on consumer safety, not limiting competition between taxis and ridesharing services such as Sidecar, Lyft and uberX.

Seattle Times Editorial

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RIDESHARING has disrupted Seattle’s taxi system and raised the bar for customer service. Instead of limiting a popular transportation option, the City Council should work to improve safety for all drivers and passengers.

Council members could learn from California’s Public Utilities Commission, which is months ahead in the process of regulating Transportation Network Companies such as Lyft, uberX and Sidecar.

California does not impose caps on ridesharing companies, as the Seattle City Council is expected to do at its March 17 meeting. But California officials have responded to safety and liability gaps exposed following several troublesome incidents nationwide that involved rideshare drivers.

Last Friday, the California regulator warned several ridesharing companies that they would not receive operating licenses without releasing additional information on their vehicle-inspection processes, driver-training requirements and insurance certificates.

Local officials should require the same level of transparency.

Sidecar, Lyft and uberX officials recently revealed they each have between 900 and 1,000 drivers using their platforms in Seattle, but only after the council passed a preliminary two-year proposal to limit each ridesharing company to 150 drivers at any given time.

Council members should lift that arbitrary cap and let the market determine demand. But the companies must also provide clear data. City officials claim they repeatedly asked to see each network’s master insurance plan. It’s not clear how rideshare drivers and passengers are protected when the drivers use their personal cars for commercial purposes.

Though ridesharing has earned the right to stick around by appealing to riders with smartphones, professional drivers must not be forgotten. Taxis and for-hire services remain a 24/7, affordable option for people who call or hail cabs, tourists, nonurban riders and passengers in wheelchairs.

On Monday, City Council members should allow cabs to access the same kind of technology that has helped ridesharing thrive. They should also consider lower vehicle-inspection fees, permit drivers to choose between more commercial insurance providers and reconsider mandatory payments to dispatchers who provide poor customer service.

There are many strategies to level the playing field — perhaps more than the City Council can handle politically on its own.

Now is the time for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray to convene a citywide advisory panel to overhaul an antiquated taxi structure. Expand innovative transportation choices without compromising consumer safety.

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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