The cities of Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and Yelm are moving to draft rules for the ride-hailing business known as Uber.
With Uber, drivers use their own cars and act as independent contractors who are connected to their customers via a smartphone app.
Unlike taxi cabs that are dispatched by a cab company, Uber customers and drivers find each other using the app. The customer pays using the app so no cash is used.
Given the complexity of a multi-jurisdictional community like ours, it is refreshing to see our city councils working together early on to understand the changing economic forces and to draft rules that make sense across the board.
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A draft ordinance has emerged after preliminary discussions between the cities. Formal proposals might go to city councils in the four jurisdictions in February or March.
It remains to be seen what objections might surface. It’s worth noting that Uber came to the cities.
Certainly local governments should have a record of whoever is driving professionally, and consumers need some assurance drivers have undergone a background check and are adequately insured.
Certainly other cities have had difficult fights between existing taxi businesses and Uber or its cousins known as Lyft and Sidecar.
Unless there is good evidence to the contrary, it makes sense to apply similar standards to taxi operations and ride-hailing services.
Taxi companies now pay a one-time licensing fee of $80 in Olympia and renewals are $30 per year. Cab drivers pay $70 for an occupational permit that covers a background check and is valid in the four-city area, according to reporter Rolf Boone’s report on the issue last week in The Olympian.
Whatever steps are taken, similar rules ought to be applied across the county to eliminate confusion. This is a situation that otherwise has potential to be a riot of complications.
It would be helpful to include regulation of drivers in rural areas, but Thurston County apparently lacks a way to regulate taxis, according to Jay Burney, Olympia assistant city manager.
Public hearings should flush out other hidden problems or gaps as the cities move toward regulation and licensing of Uber drivers. Already some ride hailing services are operating locally, according to Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder.
Uber representatives have told Lacey city officials they plan to start with 40 to 50 drivers in Thurston County, adding 10 to 15 more each week. Presumably that’s to replace drivers who quit in this reportedly high-turnover business.
Again, it’s reassuring to see a regional approach to this issue. We hope it can be replicated to address other community challenges.