Drivers operating under Washington’s ridesharing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, often struggle acquiring proper licenses for operating within different cities. That is according to proponents of SB 5260, who say the measure would alleviate jurisdictional snags by establishing statewide uniform regulations for those Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). The bipartisan-supported measure cleared the Senate Transportation Committee this week.
Drivers and the TNCs testified earlier this month that lacking the different credentials for each county and city jurisdiction often causes wasted return trips. Proponents also argued the measure would increase competitiveness for Washington’s ridesharing companies.
Addressing The ‘Patchwork of Regulations’
Committee Chair State Sen. Curtis King (R-14) is prime sponsor of the bill. He told the committee earlier this month, “As we look at these transportation network companies, it makes sense that we do this on a statewide basis rather than city by city by city and the numerous regulations and differences that occur.”
SB 5260’s cosponsors include State Sens. Steve Hobbs (D-44), Guy Palumbo (D-1), Joe Fain (R-47), and Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Mark Mullet (D-5).
Lyft Public Policy Manager Laura Bisesto told panel members, “Statewide legislation is a path towards providing consumers, drivers, and visitors a consistent experience…we are able to do this by…no longer” having “a patchwork of regulations.”
The bill would require TNCs to purchase an operating license from the Department of Licensing at an annual fee of $5,000. The companies would have to disclose on their fare rates on their website, provide a photograph of the driver and his or her vehicle’s license plate, and give an electronic receipt to each customer.
Ridesharing vehicles would need to be newer than 12 years old, meet Washington emission requirements, and have received a vehicle safety inspection within the last year. For passengers, each trip would incur a 10 cent surcharge fee to help pay for enforcing the system at the state and local government levels.
Under the bill, drivers would be considered independent contractors, and would be required to undergo a third party review on their driving and criminal background history. The background check would require a search via a multistate or multijurisdictional criminal records locator and the U.S. Department of Justice national sex offender website. Applicants would be rejected if they had numerous driving violations or were convicted of other serious crimes.
Sean Bouffio, King County’s Interim Deputy Division Director, told the committee that “vehicle safety, insurance, driver background checks and driver history reviews are things that ought to be set at the state level and consistent across the board. Statewide licensing of the operators” with “the companies involved is important” to create a competitive business environment.
‘Significant Costs’ For Drivers
Caleb Weaver said the current regulatory system “imposes a number of significant costs that not only limit the benefits the communities could enjoy, but really limits the ability for drivers and riders to take advantage of this technology.” He is Manager of Public Affairs for Uber in Washington state.
Some lawmakers are uneasy about the extra cost placed on passengers. State Sen. Marko Liias (D-21) cited concern that the average Washingtonian using ridesharing would have to pay a 10 cent surcharge per trip to fund the enforcement of the system.
He asked the panel, “Why is this being placed on passengers rather than having Uber, or Lyft, or the drivers, or the folks participating pay for the cost through some sort of license?”
Weaver responded saying the bill includes a $5,000 licensing fee for the TNCs, which “enables new companies to be able to begin to operate. This bill is designed to encourage competition, encourage development of new technologies by establishing a clear framework for new competitors to enter this space.”
Drivers Testified In Support
Zachary Skezas, a Tacoma resident and Lyft Driver, said he has yet to complete the process for being able to drive in Tacoma because “it’s a hassle to go to the specific office, fill out more paperwork, and pay more fees. It would be much more efficient and cost-effective for drivers and government offices to have a single process to register rideshare drivers.”
Shavonna Rivers, a driver for both Uber and Lyft, told the committee that she picked up a passenger from Seattle and drove them to the Tacoma Dome, where she had to shut down her services because she lacked Tacoma credentials.
Rivers added, “Different cities have different requirements and…different fees which becomes very costly for us as drivers…when we look at the regulations, it’s not clear. I don’t know where to file, how to file, who to go through, and it becomes more cumbersome on us, so we just say ‘forget it,’ and then we lose rural communities because we don’t have the ability to go there.”
Briahna Murray suggested on behalf of the city of Tacoma to add a third background check for drivers under the Washington State Patrols’ Washington Access to Criminal History (WATCH) program to the bill. Murray is Vice President of Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs. She asked committee members to specify a limitation to the amount of money that DOL can use out of the revenue generated from the 10 cent surcharge.
On Tuesday, February 21, the committee added a number of technical changes to the proposed substitute version of the bill including allowing cities and counties with populations of 500,000 people or one million people, respectively, to review the TNCs biannually for compliance, increasing the minimum age for a driver to 20, and adding an additional 10 cent surcharge to the larger cities and counties to help improve transportation options for residents with disabilities. The measure was then voted out of committee and sent to the Rules committee.