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Portland Deregulates Taxi Market In Divided Vote

People can summon drivers from ride services like Uber through smartphone apps.

People can summon drivers from ride services like Uber through smartphone apps.

Christina Belasco/OPB

The Portland City Council voted by a narrow margin Wednesday to adopt a new system of regulation for private transportation that allows ride-finding services like Uber and Lyft. The move also does away with limits on the number of cabs on the road.

The vote makes permanent most of regulatory changes the commissioners approved when they established a pilot project in April that allowed Uber and Lyft to operate legally in Portland.

During that pilot program, taxi companies and ride-finding services provided over 1 million rides, and total ridership in the Portland market increased by almost 40 percent, according to the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Taxi ridership decreased by 16 percent. 

Casting his vote in favor of the new rules, Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick described the decision as a no-win situation.

“If you don’t let Uber operate here, then you’re depriving Portlanders of a popular service used throughout the country and the world. If you let Uber operate here, you are murdering innocent traditional taxi drivers in their beds,” he said.

Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Dan Saltzman also cast “yes” votes, while Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish voted against the ordinance.

Fritz was openly critical of her fellow council members, accusing them of prioritizing corporate interests over their constituents and failing to give taxi drivers a place at the table. 
“This is one of the saddest votes I have cast in almost seven years in office,” she said. “I am greatly troubled by the fact that common sense regulations were not accepted by the council majority simply because Uber and Lyft would not approve. “

The Portland city auditor is investigating Uber for failing to disclose some lobbying by Mark Wiener on behalf of the company. Wiener has also worked as a political consultant for Commissioner Novick and Mayor Hales.

Fritz, who lost her husband last year in an accident involving a commercial truck driver, was particularly critical of concessions the council made on insurance coverage for Uber drivers who haven’t yet accepted a passenger.

The new regulations require different levels of insurance for taxi companies and for ride-finding apps. Taxi companies are required to have commercial auto liability policies with $500,000 minimum per incident for injury, death, and property damage.

Transportation network companies are required to provide two different levels of coverage. When an Uber or Lyft driver has the app open but hasn’t accepted a fare, they are insured for a minimum $100,000 per incident for death and injury and $50,000 per person.  

When the driver is en route to pick up a passenger or has a passenger in the car, the coverage increases to $1 million per incident for injury, death, and property damage.

“I am baffled as to why any of you would consider your own life, or the person you love most in the entire world, to max out at  $50,000 maximum, less than one half of one year of our salaries,” Fritz said.

Commissioner Novick acknowledged that the difference in insurance requirements was largely due to pressure from the companies.

“Let’s make this clear, this is not only Portland where these insurance rules apply during period one. Uber and Lyft have made it clear that if any jurisdiction tries to depart from this national agreement, they declare war,” he said.
Novick said he would be open to revisiting the regulations to require better liability coverage for Uber drivers, but said it would require building a larger political coalition.

He encouraged lobbyists with the taxi industry to take the issue to the state legislature.

“If you’re going to have a fight with a $50 billion company, you’re well advised to look around for allies,” Novick said. 

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