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An embarrassing and truly awful decision by the Seattle City Council. The problem is not, as the article seems to imply, “regulation” in the abstract–driving training, background checks, insurance rules, and the like are all perfectly reasonable and appropriate. It’s the utterly arbitrary 150 cars at a time cap that deserves heaps of scorn and derision. It’s particularly galling to see advocates of taxi protectionist measure try to play the ‘friend of the working class’ card, as if guaranteeing people who drive for a living must pay rents to the sacred owner of the ~850 or so cab licences is doing them a favor. As I understand it, cab drivers have been jumping ship to rideshares because they get a better deal from them, because the companies they work for have a raison d’etre beyond collecting rent. My pre-election concerns about Sawant are not lessened by this. She explains her vote thusly:

“We need to fight for a real expansion of public transportation paid for by taxes on big corporations and the rich,” she argued.

Here’s the thing: she’s absolutely right. Every word of that statement is true. But how do we get there? Transit expansions cost money, and you need popular support to accomplish that. One thing these rideshare companies are doing is making it easier to get by without a car (or with one less car per household). Since almost noone can/will afford cabs/rideshare all the time, almost every time someone ditches their car transit use increases. More importantly for political purposes “choice” transit use increases. The more riders, the greater the political commitment to improving transit. When non-poor people can ditch a car, they become political supporters of transit expansions. Transit advocates need that. Sawant needs that to achieve her goals with respect to transit. Populist talk is a fine tool for the toolkit, but using it to justify this kind of nonsense risks stripping it of its real power and turning it into general political sloganeering. If you care about transit, and the ecological disaster requiring a massive waste of city resources that is individual car ownership, you want to encourage innovations in car-sharing, as the city has in fact done with Car2go.

The cap indicates that the council is committed to the notion that the number of cars for hire in the city is at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon is exactly the same as the number available Friday and Saturday nights, regardless of demand. This is not only anti-transit (as it keeps the costs of car-free lifestyles artificially and needlessly high) it is also objectively pro-drunk driving. As people aren’t going to be able to get a ride for hours on Saturday night, they’re more likely to risk it and drive drunk.

Seattle: the alleged socialist you just elected is protecting the interests of the cab license owners, against the interests of consumers, workers, transit, and the environment. Please don’t let give her a pass on this. She might yet become a force for progressive politics in Seattle, but she’s clearly not there yet.

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