City gets closer to compromise in 'ride share' vs taxi battle

SEATTLE -- Seattle riders and taxi drivers are in a fare fight over the accelerating number of unlicensed "ride share" companies popping up in western Washington.

It used to be the only choice was taking a taxi, but now riders can choose from a number of car services, such as Lyft or similar ride share companies.

The ride shares are arranged using smarts phones. They use regular people as drivers and often cost much less than taxis.

Local taxi drivers believe the ride share services put them at an unfair disadvantage and have asked to the City of Seattle to step in.

A Seattle committee finally made a decision in the matter on Thursday. After reviewing studies about how to handle ride shares, the committee directed city staff to draw up legislation letting ride shares into the market.

The losers on Thursday were the taxi drivers, but with an audience full of anxious drivers watching, they also threw them a bone.

"Our tight regulations has maybe not delivered what we wanted," said councilman Mike O'Brien. "I mean, the existing market of taxis, we've heard a lot of comments that the service is not great. Those might be just anecdotal things, but we certainly hear a lot of it. And the innovation hasn't happened."

The committee is leaning toward helping taxi drivers by expanding the number of licenses, reducing costs and cracking down on illegal competitors. The ride share companies may be required to have drivers screened, as well as boosting insurance and forcing them to clearly identify their vehicles.

There's still a lot to be hammered out. City staff will draft legislation and send it to the full council for final approval in the coming months.