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Seattle Flirts with ‘Municipal Socialism’ – POLITICO Magazine

SEATTLE—On an overcast morning in early April, three members of the Seattle City Council arrived to find their cavernous, titanium- and maple-paneled meeting chambers packed to capacity with a noisy, unwelcoming crowd. Many wore T-shirts bearing the message “I drive, I vote.” When the council president tried to open the hearing, one argumentative man kept interrupting so industriously that security had to escort him from the room.

The confrontation had been orchestrated in part by Uber, the ride-share company, as the latest move in its long-simmering war with the city. Almost from the moment Uber chose Seattle as its third test market, back in 2011, the city has sought to put itself between the company and its drivers: first, there had been an ordinance attempting to cap the number of ride-share drivers here; then, in 2015, the City Council passed a law allowing drivers to bargain collectively. Now, the city was considering a law to force ride-share companies to nearly double the base rate paid to their drivers, from $1.35 to $2.40 per mile.

City officials argued the new rate was necessary to ensure that drivers earn Seattle’s $15-an-hour minimum wage. But Uber, king of the budget ride, was having none of it. After blasting an email to its Seattle-area customers warning that the city “wants to double your rates,” Uber dispatched a small army of company-friendly drivers to City Hall to lobby the council in person. Seattle, a city famous for promoting innovation, was innovating in a way that Uber didn’t appreciate.

Yet, it’s the kind of assertiveness that Uber and the rest of corporate America will probably have to get used to. Ever since 2014, when Seattle became the first major municipality to adopt a $15 minimum wage—over the objections of its own business community—the famously left-of-center city has rolled out a series of ambitious, often controversial laws aimed at shielding workers from the chaos of the fast-changing, technology-disrupted urban job market. Today, Seattle’s workers enjoy a list of on-the-job benefits that feels almost European in its scope—everything from a high minimum wage to a ban on last-minute schedule changes to a city-sponsored retirement savings plan. And more are on the way. This year, council members are considering a “bill of rights” for the estimated 33,000 housecleaners, nannies and other “domestics” who work for the city’s population of high earners.

Continue Reading at the Source: Seattle Flirts with ‘Municipal Socialism’ – POLITICO Magazine

 

Paul Roberts is a journalist in Seattle who writes about technology, business and politics. His latest book is The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification. Follow him on Twitter @pauledroberts.

 

 

Texas Bill Overrides Local Ride-Hailing Regulation

HB 100, signed Monday, creates a “statewide regulatory framework for ride-hailing companies,” the Texas Tribune reports.

House Bill 100 undoes local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models. It requires ride-hailing companies to have a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and pay an annual fee of $5,000 to operate throughout the state. It also calls for companies to perform local, state and national criminal background checks on drivers annually — but doesn’t require drivers to be fingerprinted.

Read the Article at the Source: Texas Bill Overrides Local Ride-Hailing Regulation

Fingerprinting has been a hot topic in Austin, as in other cities. After city officials began mandating this type of background check, Uber and Lyft fought back — but were defeated on the issue by Austin voters in May 2016. Both companies then ceased operations there.

According to the Houston Business Journal, Lyft left Houston in 2014, after the city council passed a number of regulations, including mandated fingerprinting for drivers. Uber reportedly brokered a deal with the city to keep operating locally.

In Austin, ride-hailing apps filled a definite mobility gap, considering the city’s failed light-rail votes, congestion and faltering transit ridership, as Jen Kinney wrote on Next City last year. After the companies left town, alternatives popped up — but so did a number of innovative proposals on how to remake the city’s transportation grid, from smart city technology to better bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

On Monday, Abbott touted HB 100 as a victory for “freedom and free enterprise.”

“This is freedom for every Texan — especially those who live in the Austin area — to be able to choose the provider of their choice as it concerns transportation,” he said, according to the Texas Tribune.

Viewed through another lens, however, the bill could be seen as limiting the freedom of local governments — particularly because voters in Austin supported fingerprinting. Despite the governor’s words, HB 100 looks like yet another example of a red statehouse overriding a blue city hall.

Read the Article at the Source: Texas Bill Overrides Local Ride-Hailing Regulation

*Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)