Uber and Lyft would have to insure Washington ride-share drivers, under a bill heard Tuesday in the state House, but only when a customer is in the car.
It’s the latest compromise in a months-long negotiation between state leaders, rideshare services and taxi companies. Washington lawmakers are working to regulate app-based transportation network companies, or TNCs, as they expand throughout the state. Uber and Lyft are already in Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane, with plans to expand to Olympia and beyond.
State Sen. Cyrus Habib first sponsored a bill to entire framework to regulate the companies – but that proved hard to move past other lawmakers. A compromise plan to allow large cities and counties to require additional regulations made it to the Senate floor, but last-minutes amendments meant Seattle’s ordinance would be repealed. Habib voted against his own bill.
For now, the Kirkland Democrat says the new version of his bill focuses on what’s most important right now – protecting passengers. “It is necessary to solve the insurance problem,” he told a House committee. “There are hundreds of thousands of drivers on the streets, in Seattle, in King County, in Vancouver and Spokane, without coverage because there are periods where TNCs differ on whether they should be covering that trip during that time.”
Senate Bill 5550 now requires Uber, Lyft and other ride-share drivers to carry at least $1 million in a liability insurance – but only when the app is on.
But some say it’s not always easy to tell when a driver is actually on the clock.
Taxi driver Mike Judd told committee members app-based transportation services often accept flags off of the street or make personal arrangements with riders. “A considerable amount of trips done by TNCS are inevitably going to be and have been in the past off the app,” he said. “These things are going to continue to occur and in that case, the person is not insured because the personal insurance isn’t going to cover him because he’s got a customer in the car.”
Representatives from Uber and Lyft testified against the new version of the bill. They say stakeholders worked on a national level to create an insurance standard, and Washington’s proposal goes too far beyond that.
Committee chair Rep. Steve Kirby says it’s still a work in progress. “This may not be the very end, so what we’re going to vote on today is where we’ll be today,” he said. “It doesn’t stop until after the governor signs the bill.
The bill was voted out of committee and now moves to the House floor. If it passes, it will move back to the Senate for approval. In its current version, the bill does not interfere with Seattle’s ordinance.