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Photo via Flickr user Stuart Seeger.
Photo via Flickr user Stuart Seeger.

There is demand for Uber and Lyft in Portland — at least from some of the city’s restaurant, bar, and hotel owners.

uberxA group of more than 40 people — from Stumptown Coffee founder Duane Sorenson to Ace Hotel general manager Donald Kenney — signed a letter sent to Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and four commissioners asking the city to overturn “antiquated laws” that are prohibiting new on-demand transportation startups like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar.

“We are a city that prides itself on entrepreneurship, on independent business, on being one of the only medium-sized cities in the country where people can actually live without a car,” the letter reads. “So, it’s difficult to understand why Portland is now the largest city in the country where ride-sharing companies are not able to operate. It is inconsistent with the kind of City Commission we know you are and inconsistent with who we are as a city.”

Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick.
Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick.

The letter, which you can read in full below, points out how Portland’s current regulations protect the taxi industry and that there are .07 cabs per one thousand residents.

“At Feast Portland this year, the number one complaint among the 12,000 attendees from 50 different states and provinces was, ‘lack of reliable taxi service,'” the letter notes.

The letter is reminiscent of a similar note written by the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce in February 2013 persuading city leaders to allow companies like Uber in the city. Seattle legalized the services this past June.

In an interview with City Commissioner Steve Novick this past August, Portland lawmakers appear to be taking their time when it comes to allowing companies like Uber and Lyft into its city. Novick said the issue is not as important for his office as tasks like fixing broken streets, preparing for an earthquake, and reducing unnecessary emergency room visits.

“This would fall into sort of a medium tier,” Novick said of the Uber problem. “But it’s still very interesting, and something we’re not going to forget.”

Mike Thelin.
Mike Thelin.

Last month, the Portland Bureau of Transportation found that demand for taxi rides is exceeding supply and in response has temporarily lifted restrictions to allow for more taxi cabs. The demand is not too surprising given a recent study from the R Street Institute that found Portland’s transportation options to be lackluster compared to other U.S. cities.

It’s been interesting watching Uber, which has raised $1.5 billion, stay out of Portland. The company often sets up shop in cities without first becoming regulated — it did so in Seattle before laws put into place this past June — but has yet to do so in the Rose City. Uber has launched its uberX service — which lets drivers use their own cars to shuttle people around — in six other Oregon cities. Lyft, meanwhile, is not operating in Oregon.

Mike Thelin, co-founder of Feast Portland who helped spearhead the effort for this letter, told GeekWire that he thinks Portland is crazy for not allowing companies like Uber to operate — “especially given its reputation as a place where you can actually live without a car,” he noted.

“For business travelers like me, it’s just unbelievable,” he said. “Ride-sharing is no longer an amenity in cities — it’s a standard — like free WiFi or cell phone service. To not have ride sharing is backwards.”

Thelin also pointed out how Portland has welcomed a similar “sharing economy” startup — Airbnb — with open arms and even made it legal for the home-sharing company to operate in the city this past August.

“What’s really crazy is that Portland leaders embrace AirBnB but shun Uber,” Thelin said. “They are the same thing.”

We’ve reached out to Commissioner Novick for a response and will update this post when we hear back. Read the full letter here:

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