EVERETT — The City Council is considering rules that will change how Everett regulates taxis and the new breed of internet-based car hire services.
The proposed ordinance would replace existing regulations, which apply only to traditional taxi operators.
New companies such as Uber and Lyft, which contract with drivers using their personal vehicles and manage pick-ups and drop-offs through online apps, fall outside the bounds of the city’s current regulations.
“We want to maintain that strong focus on safety like our current regulations do, but at the same time we want to put the onus on the industry to meet minimum safety thresholds,” Assistant City Attorney Katie Rathbun told the City Council on Wednesday.
The new ordinance would reduce the amount of time and labor the city clerk’s office spends on applications for various licenses and background checks by shifting those responsibilities to the businesses.
Drivers would no longer need to get individual car-hire licenses, as is now required, whether they work for a taxi operator or a transportation network company, or TNC, a term used to refer to Uber and similar companies.
The company still would have to obtain a standard business license, as would any driver who operates as an independent contractor for a TNC.
For purposes of the ordinance, the rule would not apply to a company if it does not pick up fares within the city. A ride that starts outside the city and ends within the city is not covered by the ordinance, Rathbun said.
Mitchel Matthews, senior operations manager for Uber in the Pacific Northwest, said the company still was hoping to get some parts of the ordinance changed before its scheduled approval Feb. 8.
One issue is to make allowances for military personnel to use out-of-state driver’s licenses after they transfer to a new location.
“We’ve had exceptions built into regulations that allow for these servicemen and servicewomen to provide with their families,” Matthews told the council.
The city also would no longer regulate taxi meter rates. Uber and other companies have used what’s known alternatively as surge pricing or dynamic pricing, in which rates typically rise as demand for rides increases. Taxi companies would now be free to take up the practice if they wanted to.
“Either model would be able to implement dynamic pricing pursuant to the wording of the ordinance,” Rathbun said.
Dynamic pricing, or surge pricing, has been a bone of contention among riders and taxi drivers in many cities where Uber has opened up shop. In the past, the company has been accused of exploiting emergencies, such as a fire that shut down Boston’s subway system in November, to jack up prices several hundred percent.
Mark Ford, a Seattle taxi driver, complained to the City Council that Uber undercuts regulated taxi fares with low prices, drives them out of the market and then jacks up the prices once the taxis are gone.
“Are we making the rules here? Basically it sounds like you’re handing the whole system over to Uber and letting Uber make the rules,” Ford said.
Matthews didn’t address pricing issues in his comments to the council, and didn’t respond to Ford’s allegations.
There are still unanswered questions about how service animals or mobility devices should be accommodated. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act governs public facilities, and Councilman Jeff Moore said he’d like the city’s legal department to provide an opinion.
“Historically we haven’t included any regulations related to the ADA,” Rathbun said, but promised to clarify the issue.
Councilman Scott Murphy asked Rathbun to provide information about required liability coverage for taxi companies and TNCs, since it appeared taxi companies had to pay more to operate under state law.
“It appears one aspect where this really isn’t creating a level playing field is the insurance requirements, so I think it’s important to see a side-by-side comparison before we take action,” Murphy said.