Over the past year, Portland Commissioner Steve Novick has maintained that he wants taxis and companies like Uber competing on a level playing field. His newly-proposed rules made public today certainly reflect that.
Novick and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales proposed new laws on Friday afternoon that would legalize Uber and remove any fare restrictions for taxi companies as part of a 120-day pilot program.
The proposal from Novick and Hales differs slightly from recommendations submitted by a task force last week. Portland commissioners approved the task force report on April 10, but delayed a vote after raising a number of concerns.
The new proposal builds on the original recommendations, with a few differences. Ditching fare restrictions is the most notable change, as taxis for decades have had to follow strict rules set by the city for how much they charge customers. The task force had recommended to force taxi to abide by city fare regulations, while companies like Uber and Lyft did not have such restrictions.
When we met with Novick this past August, he said it was “goofy” that other cities let Uber and Lyft operate without caps on fares or number of vehicles, while taxicabs still had to follow traditional rules.
“It doesn’t make sense to have a regulated industry and then a bunch of other people participating in the same industry, but not abiding by the same regulations,” he said.
The proposed 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,” Commissioner Dan Saltzman said last week.
The proposal includes regulations that the task force already came up with, like requiring approved background checks, vehicle inspections, and timely service for people with disabilities.
At the meeting last week, 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.
TNCs and taxi companies would also provide monthly data during the 120-day period, which the task force would then use to help make any necessary changes for permanent regulations.
“This is a historic deal,” Hales said in a statement. “We were able to move from confrontation to collaboration, with an open process and tough negotiations that have come up with a result that will improve our transportation system and creates a real win for consumers.”
Hales and Novick also added specific language on the legal liabilities of companies like Uber and Lyft.
“No disclaimer of liability for negligence or other tortious conduct contained in any TNC User Terms of Service shall have any force or effect in the City of Portland,” the proposal reads. “Any tort claim against a TNC shall be governed by tort law in effect at the time of the claim.”
This is all certainly a far cry from 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 let the city 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.
However, the city decided it needed a little extra time to iron out the temporary rules. The council will vote on the new resolution next Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Meanwhile 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. The company, which has raised $5 billion to date and offers service in more than 270 cities worldwide, has tried to enter the Portland market for nearly two years now.
“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 last week.
Here’s a statement from Novick in regard to the new proposal:
“The existing taxi companies have had two lines of argument against the pilot. One is, simply, that they should be protected from competition in order to ensure a living wage for drivers and good service for people with disabilities. Given that our best information is that the average net hourly income of Portland taxi drivers is $6.22 an hour, and given the complaints people in the disability community have about taxi service, we are not entirely persuaded by that argument,” said Commissioner Novick, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation. “But the other line of argument is that any competition needs to be fair competition. We agree with that, and in order to ensure fair competition, the proposed framework makes some changes to the task force’s recommendations – and underscores certain features of those recommendations that might not have been well understood.”