Seattle lawsuit adds to anti-Uber backlash

Uber is facing more backlash in the Pacific Northwest. A week after the Seattle City Council voted to cap the number of ride-service drivers on city streets, a Seattle-area taxi group is suing the San Francisco company, claiming it violates local laws and regulations and harms cab drivers.

In its lawsuit, the Western Washington Taxi Cab Operators Association claims Uber engages in “unlawful and deceptive business practices” by carrying out the same functions as cab drivers without adhering to the same regulations cabbies must comply with. Among them: Seattle cab drivers must complete a training course, pass a criminal-background check and take “ride-alongs” with qualified drivers, and they must have a security camera, GPS, silent alarm, fare meter and a fare list in their cars.

While those complaints are mainly aimed a private Uber X drivers, professional UberBlack drivers are also noted in the complaint, which claims they violate Washington state law prohibiting limousine drivers from making immediate pickups.

The lawsuit seeks damages on top of an unspecified amount for lost fares and tips, and notes that unregulated drivers could face fines and jail time.

Brooke Steger, general manager of Uber Seattle, defended his drivers as safe and reliable, and noted the “thousands of small business jobs” Uber creates. “It is unfortunate that the taxi industry is not similarly focused on what really matters: safety of riders and opportunity for drivers,” he said in a statement.

Seattle is not the only place where Uber and other ride services, such as Lyft and Sidecar, have come under fire. Ire was raised in New York City over Uber’s “surge pricing,” Los Angeles cabbies have staged protests, and laws in cities such as Portland and Miami prevent ride services from operating.

But Uber may have a powerful new ally in Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. The rumored 2016 presidential candidate this week called for fewer local regulations that restrict such ride services. “We should never allow government power and government regulations to be used to protect an establishment incumbent industry at the expense of an innovative competitor,” Rubio, a customer and unabashed fan of Uber, said.

Meanwhile, Uber’s “secret” insurance plans — including liability exemptions — for its drivers were revealed this week by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, perhaps giving some answers to exactly what Uber is liable for. Uber has been criticized in San Francisco after denying responsibility when one of its contracted drivers killed a child in a crosswalk on New Year’s Eve. Uber claimed it was not liable since the driver was not carrying a passenger or traveling to pick one up. The company is being sued for wrongful death in that case.


Mike Murphy Mike Murphy (382 Posts)

Mike Murphy is a web producer at the Mercury News, and also writes for Good Morning Silicon Valley and 60-Second Business Break.