The city is collecting data from the apps and from taxi dispatch systems as part of its four-month experiment in taxi deregulation, which it calls the Private For Hire Transportation Innovation Pilot Program. Below are three other key takeaways from the May data and the public hearing on the pilot program this week.
Wheelchair Access Isn’t What It Should Be
Uber and Lyft are still falling short of the city’s standard for wheelchair access, but service is improving citywide.
All private transportation companies are supposed to provide 24-7 dispatch service, including to people who need a wheelchair van.
Uber’s wheelchair service, called WAV, is available more frequently than when the company launched it in May, but is still unavailable some mornings, according to Transportation Commissioner Steve Novik.
Watch: What It Was Like To Hail An Uber In May
Lyft is doing worse, and earned a letter of reprimand from the city.
“Lyft has been warned that their WAV service is unacceptable,” said Deputy City Attorney Ken McGair during the hearing.
But the picture wasn’t all bad.
Two wheelchair users have helped the city evaluate wheelchair accessible options: Joe Vanderveer, chair emeritus of the Portland Commission on Disability, and Nickole Cheron, the city’s disability program coordinator.
Both said that in the past, they’d experienced long waits for accessible cabs, and that adding new players has improved wait times.
“I had pretty much given up on taking cabs. I’ll tell you, the service has gotten markedly better,” said Vanderveer. “Everyone is on their best behavior right now. Everyone’s trying to get their numbers.”
Lyft is working to improve and has a new contract to provide seven-day accessible service, according to city staff. Uber reported it is close to a deal that could bring more privately-owned wheelchair accessible vans to its fleet.
The City’s Data Is Questionable
Some of the data reported by the companies appears straightforward. It showed, unsurprisingly, that demand for both the app companies and taxi rides peaks between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m.
The data provided by the cab companies about their wheelchair accessible rides appeared particularly problematic. Only three taxi companies submitted data. The city initially reported that the cabs provided 2,000 accessible rides, but that number included medical transport rides in error, and later dropped to 640.
The city reported that transportation apps provided 200 accessible rides in May, but an Uber spokeswoman said that roughly half of its accessible rides were ordered by accident, and did not actually serve people in wheelchairs.
One Driver Is Ready To Negotiate A Peace Treaty
Seventy people signed up to testify during the hearing on the state of the industry. As in past hearings, cab drivers generally condemned Lyft and Uber drivers as a bunch of dangerous, inexperienced Californians, while the Lyft and Uber drivers criticized the cabbies as corrupt and out of touch.
One person stood out, however, for his civil and generous testimony: a driver for Lyft and Uber named Dan Westin. According to his testimony, he works several part-time jobs and volunteers with Meals on Wheels. Westin urged the city to be fair.
“My biggest concern is, I recognize that there is something going on here that is not working well for the cab drivers,” he said.
“If somehow, some way, Portland could make it a little more level playing field for the cab drivers — even if we had to give up something — giving up a little to keep them employed, that would really be an accomplishment,” Westin said. “I hope it works that way.”
Perhaps, Westin should consider a full-time career in diplomacy.