Washington, Oregon Legislation Sidelines Cities To Help Uber, Lyft Expand Statewide

Feb 9, 2017

Drivers and professional lobbyists for the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft are urging state lawmakers to replace what they call a "patchwork" of city regulations with uniform statewide rules for their industry. They testified in Olympia Wednesday that this would expand the availability of the smartphone-based ride-booking services.

Shavonna Rivers of Renton, Washington, works as a driver for both Uber and Lyft. She described to a state Senate committee Wednesday how she had to get five separate licenses just to pick up customers in greater Seattle and Tacoma.

"Different cities have different requirements. Not only do they have different requirements, they have different fees, which become very costly for us as drivers," Rivers said. "It becomes more cumbersome on us, so we say forget it. And then we lose our rural communities because we don't have the ability to go there."

"We very much need something that is more uniform so we can better serve our own communities," Rivers concluded.

A Washington Senate bill would repeal local ordinances on ride-hailing services in favor of one statewide rulebook. This would cover permits, insurance, driver qualifications and vehicle safety.

An Uber spokesperson said he expects a bipartisan group of Oregon lawmakers to introduce similar legislation later this month. In Olympia, local government lobbyists immediately registered concern and labor unions outright opposition.

Prime sponsor and Senate Transportation Committee chair Curtis King, R-Yakima, described his legislation several times Wednesday as "a work in progress." A particular flashpoint could be Seattle's first-of-its-kind ordinance allowing drivers in the gig economy to organize and bargain collectively. Several labor groups are backing an effort to organize Uber and Lyft drivers in Seattle.

A City of Seattle representative and the ride-hailing company lobbyists told the Senate committee that they are working together on possible amendments to preserve local authority over the labor representation aspect.

Last month, Uber challenged Seattle's ordinance allowing drivers to unionize and bargain collectively for better pay and working conditions. The case, in which Uber contends the city "acted arbitrarily and capriciously," is pending in King County Superior Court.