This week, the Washington State Senate approved a measure which would establish statewide laws for Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), such as Lyft or Uber. During executive session, lawmakers voiced rival viewpoints on SB 5620 and its amendments, as to whether the changes would be best for drivers, the companies, or Washingtonians using ridesharing services. In February, both the companies and their drivers testified that the bill would ease confusion that comes with operating within multiple cities, and reduce compliance costs to drivers.
Creating ‘Safe’ and ‘Reliable Transportation Options’
Prime sponsor is State Sen. Curtis King (R-14). On Tuesday, March 7, he told colleagues during executive session that the bill “will create the framework so that ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uber can bring safe, reliable, and affordable transportation options to everyone in Washington.”
Last month, both drivers and TNC company representatives testified in front of the Senate Transportation Committee that the measure would reduce confusion caused by a mishmash of regulations, and reduce costly registration fees for operating within multiple cities.
The State Senate approved SB 5620 in a 34-15 vote. Lawmakers who voted for its passage included King, and State Sens. Maralyn Chase (D-32), Michael Baumgartner (R-6), Guy Palumbo (D-1), Andy Billig (D-3), and Reuven Carlyle (D-36). Members opposed included State Sens. Kevin Ranker (D-40), Karen Keiser (D-33), and Steve Conway (D-29).
The bill would establish a statewide regulatory program for TNCs, requiring those companies to pay an annual operating fee of $5,000 to the Department of Licensing. TNCs would have to provide pictures of their drivers and information on their vehicle’s license plate, display fare rates and estimated costs to rideshare customers, and send them electronic receipts.
The TNC drivers would be considered independent contractors, and would have to pass both a multijurisdictional and national background check, including a third party review of the potential drivers and their driving history. Applicants convicted of serious driving infractions or felonies would be ineligible.
For ridesharing passengers, there would be a 10 cent surcharge fee for each trip to help pay for enforcement of the system. Also, a driver’s vehicle must meet state emission requirements, be newer than 12 years old, and have received a vehicle safety inspection within the last year.
Preparing For ‘Modern Transportation Options’
“The bill follows the framework adopted by 38 other states,” said King. “I think this kind of service allows for safer streets, it increases the spending at local towns and cities, and…is good for our environment, and paves the way for modern transportation options throughout the state.”
Senate floor discussions proved lively, as many lawmakers voiced competing opinions on the bill’s proposed amendments and their effect on drivers, passengers, and the TNCs.
Ranker sponsored an amendment, eventually withdrawn, that would have increased the statewide fee for TNCs from $5,000 to $100,000. He cited that both Colorado and Virginia had fees of $110,000 and $100,000, respectively, and added that the purpose of the amendment was to encourage floor discussion, which the House could then consider.
“I still believe that a $5,000 fee is inadequate…we should probably be closer to a $100,000 fee, but I don’t believe we have all the information to advance that at this time,” added Ranker.
Considering The Drivers, Passengers
For Keiser, her concerns lay with how the drivers would be negatively impacted by the bill’s passage.
They “are now declared independent contractors and exempt from our safety net for both workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance,” she told colleagues. “So, if they get into a car accident while driving on a job, they are out of luck. Yes, they can opt into workers’ comp, but they are going to have to pay the entire freight themselves, and they are not getting the best wages.”
Keiser added that another element of the bill would “circumvent” the right for drivers to engage in collective bargaining with cities or counties, which is currently allowed.
Carlyle sponsored an amendment implemented into the bill which would give ridesharing passengers greater protection from drivers or the TNC company. It would establish a toll-free number for riders to call for any complaints, and a website for detailing a passenger’s rights.
“I believe that basic consumer protections can be really helpful if we are going to look at a statewide model. Let’s do so with some of those core ingredients in place such as consumer protection and let’s move forward in a responsible way, and I think that this is a balanced, modest way to do so,” he said.
The Senate adopted an amendment sponsored by Billig, which would prevent “grayballing,” or a tactic used by TNCs to avoid regulation by avoiding certain areas or evading the pick-up of authorities, according to Billig. Under the amendment, any TNC company that uses “deceptive” or “coordinated” attempts to deceive authorities would have their permit suspended for six months.
Baumgartner, however, argued the amendment deserved to be a stand-alone bill. “It’s an important issue, but it’s one that should be worked thoroughly in committee because there are government surveillance and technology issues here about what you are restricted with this amendment,” he said.
Chase said the bill’s shortcomings could be dealt with later. “I think that we can work it, we can discuss it, we can have transparency, (and) we can make sure that all of the things in this bill that we don’t like can be fixed…I think that our colleagues in the House will be able to massage it and make something that we can agree on.”
SB 5620 has since been referred to the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee, but is not currently scheduled for a hearing.