Battle continues between Seattle taxicab and for-hire drivers

SEATTLE -- It can be hard to spot the difference, but getting into a for-hire car with unregulated fares could cost you big.

Local cab drivers say the look-alike for-hire cars are getting way too aggressive, and today they announced their intent to sue the City of Seattle for failing to enforce the law.

Tensions continue to rise between drivers of taxicabs and the for-hire cars that look nearly the same but aren't licensed to pick up people who flag them down from sidewalks.

Seattle limits the number of taxicabs to 930, adding more as needed. Taxicab drivers get background checks, car inspections and pay sizeable fees. For-hire cars can charge customers anything they want, and the drivers and cars are vetted by the county, not the city.

The city has now deployed four undercover inspectors to flag down and ticket for-hire cars. City council member Sally Clark is the point person on the city's plan to sort it all out.

"If you ask the taxi drivers, we're not catching enough folks. If you ask the for-hire drivers, they're not being allowed to really serve market demand," Clark said.

It's easy for customers to get confused, but the easiest way to tell the two apart is that for-fire cars cannot use the words "taxi" or "cab" anywhere on their cars. The for-hire cars are licensed for call-in-advance service only, and are never supposed to stop for someone flagging them down.

But they do, as a recent undercover investigation by KOMO News shows.

Every single available for-hire car flagged down during the investigation stopped. Some tried to wiggle out of the deal when they were told they were being filmed by KOMO.

"And if you are doing a report, I am sorry. I have to let you out here because you are not my customer," one for-hire driver said.

Others simply asked for forgiveness.

"Yeah, I know the law but we still struggling. I don't know what I am going to do," another driver said.

Clark acknowledged that breaking the rules can be very temping for cash-strapped for-hire drivers.

"That is a pretty big temptation if you're a for-hire driver," she said. "You're trying to make a living as well. And, if there is demand out there, you're going to be pretty tempted to jump in there and pick up a fare or two."

The city is also reviewing town cars, which are also not allowed to pick up sidewalk fares.

The Seattle City Council should get recommendations in July.