When this AmazonFresh truck crashed into a Seattle building in January, one thing that was not a problem was its California state license plates.
Certainly, corporations like Amazon are people but if you’re actually a person and don’t register your personal vehicle within 30 days of moving to Washington State, you face up to a year in jail and more than $1,500 in fines. No such problem for corporate people.
As Seattle residents gear up to vote on a 25 year, $50 billion transportation package to address traffic problems largely driven by Amazon’s recent growth, they may be asking whether it’s fair that they be asked to pay $400 (or as much as $1,000 dollars annually) in indefinite sales, property and vehicle tax increases without commensurate participation by local corporations.
I actually first began to notice the plethora of AmazonFresh delivery trucks with California plates last fall. The company has a history of aggressive tax avoidance and I wondered if this was just one more aspect of this.
It turned out to be quite difficult and time consuming to find out whether Amazon is breaking the law. As commonplace, Amazon’s media relations team ignored my request for a simple explanation — another way it neglects its civic role in Seattle.
The state’s Department of Licensing didn’t know and referred me to the Department of Transportation which also didn’t know. They referred me to the state’s Department of Utilities and Transportation which oversees commercial transportation. They didn’t know either and referred me to the Washington State Patrol, who also didn’t know.
I’m told the plates on U-Haul trucks are often out of state because they are part of federal programs for interstate commerce, but AmazonFresh trucks perform local grocery deliveries. Every local FedEx and UPS truck I’ve seen here has in state registrations as did this Safeway home delivery truck. But all the AmazonFresh neighborhood delivery trucks I’ve seen use California plates.
California does offer what it calls an International Registration Program (IRP) which allows interstate trucks to register with them and it shares the proceeds with other states.
California’s Department of Motor Vehicles eventually released documents to me showing that the four AmazonFresh license plates I had at the time were actually Ryder rental trucks, but it replied, “While it’s possible there’s an Amazon IRP fleet, we are not aware of one and these plates are not in one. In IRP, there are limited circumstances where a vehicle that operates in one jurisdiction is allowed to operate as part of an IRP fleet, but that’s not apparently relevant to this…”
Ryder may own these trucks, but they are clearly branded for long term AmazonFresh use and spend the majority, if not all of their time in Washington State. Local home delivery trucks wouldn’t qualify for IRP.
I made a number of calls and e-mail requests to Ryder’s media relations team. They also chose not to respond.
Ultimately, Trooper Chris Webb of the Washington State Patrol looked into the issue and responded, “…the only answer that I can give you is that the trucks are leased from Ryder. Since the business is run through Amazon, they are still responsible for any fees, taxes and other payments to run the business. Ryder is only responsible for the ownership of the vehicle. There are many variables connected to leases and rentals. Since a corporation owns the lease, the trucks are able to use out-of-state plates because the vehicle may end-up in another state as part of the rental or lease agreement.” He later added that the party responsible for registering the vehicle is determined between Ryder and Amazon in their lease agreement.
Last week, I asked the Department of Licensing again why Amazon’s not at least required to register with California’s IRP. They replied, “If you want to talk to someone about enforcement of commercial vehicle licensing, you can contact the Washington State Patrol.” When I asked Trooper Webb why, he replied, “That would fall under the department of licensing. The [state patrol] is only a law enforcement agency and would not have the authority to force businesses to register.”
So, if you’re a corporate person, and not a real one, go ahead and use whatever plates you wish. Having a variety of out of state plates on our highways might restore some of the local diversity we’ve lost with Amazon’s largely white male workforce. Just don’t do this if you’re an actual person, then you might go to jail.
Perhaps Amazon could use some of the money from AmazonFresh’s new $299 annual fee to register its vehicles in our state as its customers are required to.
Honestly, I don’t really care much about vehicle registration or licensing infractions. It’s not really a huge deal in itself for the state or a company the scale of Amazon. But, it’s representative of Amazon’s philosophy towards Seattle and its own employees. Get as much as we can, spend as little as we can — and don’t worry about the impact e.g. massive traffic without any funding for solutions.
(If you’re interested in checking out alternatives to Amazon, I’ve helped set up Flee the Jungle as a categorized directory to other online providers.)