Battle brewing between Seattle taxicab and for-hire drivers

SEATTLE -- A Thursday showdown at Seattle City Hall pitted taxicab drivers against drivers for hire.

Taxicab drivers say the for-hire drivers are illegally cutting into their business, and on Thursday the city launched a new committee to look at the rules and regulations that govern the taxi industry.

Many in Seattle don't even realize there's a difference between taxicabs and for-hire cars.

For-hire cars must have a two-tone paint scheme, charge a flat rate with no meters and must be prearranged. Taxicabs have to have top lights and meters and customers can hale them from the street.

The problem, according to some taxi drivers, is that the for-hire drivers routinely break the rules.

"They are illegally taking our business and the city is not doing anything about it," said taxi driver Aman Ahsan.

For-hire drivers say they feel the tension between the two groups.

"When we drive around they yell at us," said for-hire driver Gizaw Refu. "They honk at us, they take our picture, something like that. They look at us like illegal business"

The fight spilled over into City Hall on Thursday, as angry taxi drivers complained to a City Council sub-committee. The taxi drivers say the for-hire drivers are rarely punished for breaking the rules.

"There has been a flood of unregulated, unmarked cars painted to look like tax cabs," said Chris VanDyk of Yellow Cab.

VanDyk said in addition to their paint jobs, the for-hire drivers often pick up customers for unscheduled rides, which isn't allowed.

Ahsan, who's been driving a taxi for 20 years in Seattle, said he's fed up.

"Everything has gotten worse," he said. "Everything has gone against taxi cab drivers. Nothing has gone in favor of us."

For-hire drivers disagree, saying they pay all the same fees but have to follow rules that make it more difficult for them to earn a living.

"Cruising is not allowed. Stopping is not allowed. We are not helicopter. How can we pick up customer?" Gizaw said.

Thursday's meeting was just the first step in the process, and the committee has not yet looked at any proposals on the issue.