In what seems to be a battle between old school and new technology, Seattle taxi drivers are engaged in business litigation with UberX, whose web app enables anyone with a car to offer paid driving services. According to a recent GeekWire article, the Western Washington Taxi Cab Operators Association acknowledges they have taken a financial hit due to the popularity of Uber and similar apps, such as Lyft and Sidecar. Their complaint, though, centers on fair competition in the marketplace. Taxi drivers point out that they face significant oversight and regulation, but that these new companies are offering taxi services without being subject to the same licensing and insurance standards.
Taxi Regulations: Where the Rubber Meets the Road
As anyone familiar with business planning in Seattle knows, there are often city and county regulations that need to be considered before starting a company. If you wanted to start your own taxi, for-hire, or limousine service in Seattle, you would be required to
- Obtain a for-hire license from King County Licensing
- Obtain a vehicle license from the Seattle Consumer Affairs Unit
- Apply for a business license from the City of Seattle
- Get commercial insurance for your taxi
- Maintain a trip log and a dispatch log
- Keep records of any complaints
- Provide the city with quarterly reports about service requests, operating hours, and complaints
You also need to ensure your car was painted with the correct coloring and signage to indicate what kind of driving service you were offering and comply with uniform requirements. Seattle taxi drivers are frustrated that Uber and its contemporaries are not being held to these standards despite offering the same services. Some also raise concerns about whether private auto insurance coverage would extend to paying passengers. As a Seattle business lawyer could tell you, even a simple accident could raise questions of liability between Uber, the private driver, and their paying passenger.
What Technology Developers Should Consider
Some observers suspect this cease and desist claim has less to do with fairness in regulations and more to do with the inability of taxi drivers to keep up with new technology. Before dismissing this as sour grapes, though, technology and app developers would be wise to consult with a Seattle business lawyer prior to launching their own new endeavors. While offering virtual services and creating online environments makes it seem like you should be exempt from a lot of government oversight, finding out what laws and regulations apply to your business if it operated from a storefront or office in a specific city will help you anticipate and avoid future complaints and potential legal woes.