Good news for Portland residents that like taking an Uber ride: You’ll likely be able to do so next month.
Interviews with officials from both the city and the ride-hailing company show that, barring something unexpected, Uber drivers will be allowed to pick up passengers in Portland starting next month.
Uber agreed to suspend operations in the Rose City on Dec. 18 after it illegally began offering service two weeks prior. This action forced the city to launch a sting operation against the company’s drivers and it ultimately issued a cease-and-desist order.
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.
In response, the city convened a task force to develop new regulations. The group has already met five times in the past few months and heard input from drivers, riders, and other stakeholders in the community.
Uber, meanwhile, has continued operating in surrounding areas 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.
On April 9, the task force will present its initial recommendations that focus on vehicle inspections, background checks, and insurance policies to the City Council.
At that point, there are two options. Bryan Hockaday, a policy and communications advisor for City Commissioner Steve Novick — who’s in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) — said a resolution could be put in place that would direct the PBOT director to initiate a pilot program for companies like Uber and Lyft, or “transportation network companies (TNC).” This program would start shortly after April 9 and take into account the task force recommendations and discussion from City Council.
The other option, Hockaday explained, is that the council could vote to create new TNC permits within city code. Regardless which direction the council goes, it appears that Uber will be able to legally operate in Portland by the end of April.
“Pushing back the April deadline is not on the table,” Hockaday said.
Hockaday added that the task force will continue to work past the April deadline as the city develops permanent new for-hire regulations. He also noted that the city wasn’t able to create a TNC pilot program, say, in December, because there was no existing definition of “TNC” in city code. Today, the PBOT is asking the council to adopt a definition that helps classify companies like Uber and Lyft, which will allow for the creation of a TNC pilot program.
“This will lay a foundation for a regulatory framework which we are all working toward,” Hockaday said.
Hockaday said that “Uber has honored city process and its timeline” since December. Brooke Steger, Uber Seattle General Manager, told GeekWire that the relationship between Uber and the City of Portland is now “really positive.”
That’s certainly a far cry from December, when Novick told The New York Times that Uber “seems like a bunch of thugs.”
“We are collaborating a lot and are meeting regularly with both the task force and various offices,” Steger said. “We’re just trying to be as open and transparent as possible about our processes.”
Steger added that she’s “really optimistic” about resuming operations in April. She noted that more than 30 percent of trips from surrounding suburbs still end in Portland.
“If it looks like this process will extend past April, we hope that there will be a temporary operating agreement in place so we can continue pick-ups in Portland next month,” she said.
Hockaday noted that revising the for-hire regulations isn’t all about the newcomers like Uber and Lyft. He said the city is focused on helping the existing taxi companies meet rider demand in Portland, too. Last month, Portland’s taxi board approved 242 new driver permits — a 64 percent increase from what was previously available.
“This is about more than just Uber and Lyft,” Hockaday said. “It’s about the whole industry and making sure it’s working well and fair for everybody.”
However, despite the progression in Portland, Uber still has other issues to deal with in Oregon. Officials in Eugene are suing the company in order to force them to stop operating.