Taxi drivers protest at Seattle City Hall

SEATTLE -- Taxi cab drivers mounted a big protest Monday afternoon at Seattle City Hall, saying city  leaders are not enforcing the law when it comes to protecting their industry against all the competitors that are popping up, including the flat-rate cars and the increasingly popular ride-share programs.

“All we’re saying is wake up,” said Salah Mohamed, who has been driving a taxi for year.  “Do what you’re supposed to do, which is enforce the law.”

Mohamed says only licensed taxis can be flagged by customers on the street or pick up at designated stands. But he argues “for hire” services (which look an awful lot like cabs, but charge only a flat-rate) are breaking those rules.

“I’m losing business,” Mohamed said.  “Make sure that everybody follows the rule of law.”

But operators of “for-hire” vehicles object to the argument being made by the taxi drivers.

“The taxis are the kings on the table,” said Sam Guled.  “They want everything. They don’t want to share with anyone.”

Guled, who owns the region’s largest for-hire company, with pre-arranged, flat-rate service, says it’s time to change the rules.  He says his drivers should be allowed the same rights as taxis, especially given that the city hasn’t issued a new cab license in years and demand is only growing.

“They’re trying basically to make competition illegal,” Guled said.  “For God’s sake!  I mean this is America.  This is what makes this country great.  We want competition.  We want everyone to compete on a level playing field.  That’s all we’re asking, fairness, fairness, fairness.”

Even though the taxi drivers and for-hire drivers are bitter enemies out there on the street, they do agree on one thing:  the new mobile-phone based ride-share programs should be regulated, including inspections, commercial licensing, special insurance, etc.  There are no requirements on them now.

That wouldn’t just level the playing field, the argument goes, but it is very important in terms of public safety for people to know what they are getting is safe and secure.

Mayor Mike McGinn and the City Council are looking into the issue.

Indeed, the city is doing a study right now about how much demand there is and how all these services fit into the landscape.  That should be completed in August.