One month ago, Uber was feeling “really optimistic” about operating again in Portland.
Now, probably not so much.
After a lengthly six-hour city council meeting on Thursday, Portland lawmakers delayed a vote on officially approving a task force report that outlined regulations for a 120-day pilot program for transportation network companies (TNC) like Uber and Lyft.
For the past three months, the city-convened task force met ten times to outline the new rules, which set forth laws that would temporarily legalize TNCs and also lift caps on the number of taxicabs allowed on Portland’s streets.
This all took place after December, when Uber launched in Portland unexpectedly and without regulation. Uber’s arrival forced the city to launch a sting operation against the company’s drivers and it ultimately filed a lawsuit against Uber.
On Dec. 18, Uber said it would temporarily stop operating in Portland to allow the city to revise its for-hire regulations. Under the agreement, the city said that if new regulations were not set in stone by April 9, it would allow Uber and other competitors like Lyft to operate with temporary regulations while they iron out a long-term solution.
“Pushing back the April deadline is not on the table,” Bryan Hockaday, a policy and communications advisor for City Commissioner Steve Novick, told GeekWire last month.
However, that’s not what happened on Thursday. City commissioners asked representatives from Uber and Lyft what they would do if the task force recommendations were not approved. Both said they would wait until laws were in place before operating again.
Dylan Rivera, spokesman for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, said that a work session is scheduled for April 21 that will allow the commissioners to further discuss this topic. Rivera added that there is no set date for a potential council vote on the task force recommendation.
Uber declined to comment on what the company’s next step is.
Portland commissioners Amanda Fritz, Nick Fish, and Dan Saltzman repeatedly voiced concerns related to a number of issues in the task force recommendations. They questioned the way Uber conducts background checks, wondered if the minimum insurance requirements were adequate, and worried about an unfair playing field.
For example, Fritz didn’t like that under the task force recommendations, taxi drivers still had to purchase permits but TNC drivers only needed business licenses.
“That doesn’t seem fair,” said Fritz, who added that “I am never going to use Uber.”
The rules also set no caps on the number of vehicles or permits during the 120-day period for both taxi companies and TNCs, setting up somewhat of a free-for-all environment.
“This could turn out to be a race to the bottom,” Saltzman said.
There were also concerns about the way Uber would offer trip data to the city. The task force recommended that both TNCs and taxi companies provide monthly data during the 120-day period, which they would then use to help make any necessary changes for permanent regulations. It was unclear how Uber and Lyft would provide that private data; however, Uber already does something similar in Boston.
The commissioners also seemed uneasy about how Uber and Lyft would serve disabled patrons. At the meeting, Uber’s Northwest General Manager Brooke Steger announced a partnership with First Transit, which will offer wheelchair-accessible rides on Uber’s platform in Portland.
For the past three months, Uber has continued operating in surrounding areas outside of Portland and is giving drivers an extra $5 for each ride that ends in Portland since they aren’t allowed to pick up another fare in the city.
“This is an opportunity to put into place a regulatory framework that works for these emerging new technologies and improves the way Portlanders move around in the community,” Steger said on Thursday.
It’s unclear if and when Uber will begin operating in Portland again. The company, which has raised $5 billion to date and offers service in more than 270 cities worldwide, has tried to enter the market for nearly two years now.
Here are some of the other key rules that the task force outlined for the 120-day trial period:
- TNCs will be required to hold a commercial general liability policy and drivers will be required to carry contingent insurance coverage while they are searching for a ride. When driving someone or driving to pick that person up, drivers will also need primary coverage with minimum liability limits of $1 million in combined single limit coverage for death, personal injury and property damage per incident; and $1 million in combined single limit under/uninsured motorist coverage for death, personal injury and property damage per incident.
- Taxi companies and TNCs must provide monthly data related to number of rides given, duration and location of trips, and wait times.
- Any taxi or TNC drivers who are classified as independent contractors (like those who drive for Uber and Lyft) will be required to obtain a business license from the City of Portland, and must carry documentation of their business license number with them. However, unlike taxi drivers, TNC drivers won’t need to purchase a special individual permit. Only the TNCs themselves need permits.
- TNC and taxi drivers won’t be allowed to work for more than 14 hours at a stretch, can be trained by city-authorized programs, and must be subject to background checks, which can be performed by a third party. Cars, which must be inspected by a certified mechanic, will have to carry first aid kits and functional heating/cooling systems, but won’t be required to hold a fire extinguisher and spare tire – a departure from previous rules.
- TNC drivers won’t be able to pick up street hails or wait in taxi lines.
Update, April 12: The Portland City Council will hold a work session on April 13 from 3 p.m to 5 p.m to discuss the task force recommendations. No vote or public testimony is expected.