Everett City Council passes rules for ride-hailing companies

EVERETT — After more than two hours of testimony and wrangling over details, the Everett City Council passed an ordinance on Wednesday that regulates online ride-hailing companies as it does taxicabs.

The rules were adopted unanimously, with numerous amendments designed to placate companies such as Uber and Lyft. In April, those companies had raised numerous objections to the original bill, leading to it to be sent back to the city’s legal department for revisions.

Those amendments might have addressed some issues, but about two dozen drivers for those companies urged the council to vote it down, with some saying they would not operate in Everett under the new rules.

Representatives from both companies told the council the language in the ordinance was still too vague to be acceptable.

“As far as we can tell there are still plenty of problems in the ordinance before you,” said Caleb Weaver, the public affairs manager for Uber in Washington.

Drivers for those companies, who are independent contractors, took issue with one element of the ordinance or another, especially the requirement that they obtain a general business license from the city in order to pick up a ride in Everett.

Charles Shaw, an Everett resident who drives for Lyft, said the business model, which uses a mobile device application to hail rides, allows drivers to cover a wider territory more efficiently, and it simply isn’t feasible to obtain a business license in every city where someone needs a ride.

“I don’t pick up in Tacoma any more because they require a business license,” Shaw said.

Business licenses in Everett cost $78, and $10-$26 for annual renewal, depending on whether the applicant is an Everett resident and the business’ annual revenue.

Other drivers called out vehicle inspection requirements, with some under the impression that they’d need a second one just for Everett. That is not the case, Assistant City Attorney Katie Rathbun clarified.

Other changes worked into the bill in response to the companies’ concerns included removing a maximum allowable vehicle age of 10 years, letting companies keep their driver lists confidential and setting insurance requirements that tracked state law.

Some taxi operators opposed provisions of the bill on grounds that they had more regulations to meet. Only two cab drivers spoke at the meeting.

Adisu Aramde, president of Yellow Cab of Washington, said he was concerned about potential loopholes in the bill allowing an Uber or Lyft driver to bypass the online booking system on multiple-leg trips, for example.

Several drivers responded that doing so would get them fired.

“Anyone I know would not take anyone anywhere if their ride was not on the app,” said Barbara Fortin.

Council President Judy Tuohy acknowledged that the rules weren’t ideal, and that current law didn’t anticipate this kind of new business model.

“This is all new for us, but until the state comes out with requirements, we need to enact something,” Tuohy said.

The ordinance requires the council to review it within three years at the latest.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @CWintersWriter.

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