Victory for Lyft and Uber in Seattle council vote

By Dan Raile , written on July 14, 2014

From The News Desk

After 15 months of continuous negotiations, Lyft and Uber will be able to operate (fairly) freely again in Seattle.

An earlier attempt to regulate the growing ridesharing market there had capped the number of cars in service at 150 per company.

Today’s hearing before the Seattle City Council was delayed several times when lawmakers asked for clarification as to what exactly they were voting on. The measure at stake included a raft of amendments, and amendments to amendments, regarding considerations that ranged from insurance issues, to the establishment of a city- and county-wide medallion system, to the colors of various cab company cars. Many council members expressed concerns that new amendments had not been fully vetted by public process, but the measure passed anyways.

Since the ordinance limiting their operation passed in March, Uber and Lyft (in a rare case of cooperation) had combined to donate over $1 million to a campaign for a public referendum to repeal it. Sidecar, ever the third wheel in these road wars, donated a staggering $541 towards the same. The final compromise included the participation of the traditional taxi industry in an attempt to set a level playing field for all stakeholding businesses.

Seattle was one of the original cities into which Lyft expanded in 2013 after rapid success in its hometown of San Francisco, and it was an early entry for UberX as well. As elsewhere, the companies began operating and building their user bases there before a regulatory strategy was developed to administer them.

Last week, Lyft encountered a setback in their plan to do the same in New York City, when regulators threatened to confiscate drivers’ cars if they rolled out their service as intended. In a first, Lyft will need to find a compromise with the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission before it begins operations. Uber has a working agreement for a limited service in New York, a deal that was years in the making.

Curiously, Lyft had vowed to launch in New York City last Friday, over the objections and warnings of regulators.

If the amount of time and deliberation this Seattle decision required are any guide, Lyft may face a long road to getting clearance from the NY T.L.C. They might do well to cooperate with their rival in convincing the T.L.C. to play ball, not least since Uber’s head of policy development is a former T.L.C. deputy commissioner.