Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Report: most Seattle-King County taxi driver test-takers fail

by July 9th, 2012

There are more than 3,000 licensed taxi drivers driving 592 licensed taxicabs in Seattle and King County, but officials certainly aren’t passing out the required credentials like candy. Nearly two-thirds of all applicants to become taxi drivers who took a key written test last year for licensing, failed it, according to the recently released 2011 Taxicab Annual Report from the county’s Division of Records and Licensing Services. Only 37 percent of 681 taxicab driver test-takers last year passed. The passage rate by 2006 had plummeted to less than 40 percent from 60 percent in 1996, and has stayed below 40 percent since 2006.

A driver is entitled to two tries; some of those failing last year were on their second attempt. The test has two parts. One assesses geographic and other knowledge of the region. The other regards setting fares, driver conduct and regulation, driver-passenger relations, oral and written comprehension of directions, vehicle safety requirements and emergency procedures. A passing grade is at least 80 percent correct on both parts of the written exam.

There’s also an oral exam in English and a two-day training program. The City of Seattle licenses all taxi vehicles, while King County licenses drivers who operate in Seattle and 15 other King County cities. License applications include county review of state Department of Licensing driver records. If applicants have an increased number of moving violations but those aren;t numerous or serious enough to immediately warrant denial, they are interviewed in person.

Total complaints registered by passengers in 2011 numbered 111, up from 91 in 2010; still a tiny fraction of the overall number of trips. Most complaints were for driver conduct; the next most frequent category was wrong rate/wrong route. All complaints are investigated, some are upheld and some aren’t. The report did not include that data.

At the end of 2011 there were 3.082 licensed taxi drivers in King County and 143 licensed limo drivers, and 592 licensed taxicabs. Most taxicab driver licenses are to operate a vehicle both in Seattle and elsewhere in King County, but some licenses are for one jurisdiction and not the other.

King County and Seattle technically set their taxicab rates for passengers separately but the rates have been closely coordinated in recent years. The current common rate has been a $2.50 drop fee and $2.50 per mile but a hike was to be considered today by the Seattle City Council. Council Bill 117465 would raise rates for taxicabs licensed to operate in Seattle to $2.70 per mile and boost the flat rate from $32 to $40 for a trip between the downtown hotel district and Sea-Tac Airport. Under the bill, taxis licensed to operate in both Seattle and King County could charge two different rates if King County chose not to match Seattle’s.

The King County taxicab report was transmitted by letter recently to the county council by County Executive Dow Constantine.

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