Will Portland Level the Playing Field for all Ride Services?

In a last minute deal, cab companies have produced a proposal to scrap references to "taxi companies" and lump all ride services together.

by Elliot Njus, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore. / November 6, 2015
(Flickr/Mark Warner)

(TNS) -- A group of Portland taxi companies wants to do away with taxi companies — at least as far as city code is concerned.

Facing new rules that would permanently sanction their disruptive new competitors, Uber and Lyft, local cab companies have offered an eleventh hour proposal that strikes references to "taxi companies" from the city code and lumps all "private for-hire transportation companies" together.

The plan would increase the costs and regulation for Uber, Lyft and their drivers drivers to levels currently faced by taxi drivers and companies, including per-car permitting fees and greater insurance requirements.

The proposal comes as the Portland City Council meets Thursday afternoon to consider a regulatory scheme proposed by Commissioner Steve Novick, who oversees the city transportation bureau. His proposal does away with permitting fees in favor of a per-ride surcharge, and it allows Uber and Lyft to provide less insurance coverage when a drivers are waiting for a fare.

The counterproposal aims to level the playing field without lowering standards, said Michael Schultz, a lawyer for a taxi industry group called the Transportation Fairness Alliance.

"This proposal recognizes that technology has made it more efficient for people who seek rides to request them," he said. Novick's proposal, he says, is rooted in the idea that Uber and Lyft provide different services than taxis.

While Novick's proposal would ease regulations on taxi companies, the taxi companies argue that restrictions for Uber and Lyft drivers should be increased to levels closer to that of cab drivers.

For example, taxi companies say Uber and Lyft should have to pay a per-car annual permit fee as the taxi companies have historically, and that they should require Uber and Lyft to carry bigger insurance policies for their drivers.

Uber and Lyft have argued that most of their their drivers aren't full-time professionals and shouldn't be regulated as such.

The proposal would maintain certain exclusive competitive advantages for marked fleet vehicles — that is, the ones that work for taxi companies. Only vehicles with taxi markings and outfitted with cameras could pick up street hails or wait for fares in taxi stands, and they would have to be part of a fleet of 15 vehicles or more.

That's necessary to maintain passenger and driver safety because street hails are inherently anonymous, Schultz said. (Novick's proposal makes similar distinctions, and Uber and Lyft have not campaigned for the right to pick up street hails.)

"It's mostly intended to provide for public safety," he said. "But to be clear ... there's nothing to prevent any company from utilizing fleet vehicles."

Taxi companies also want Uber and Lyft drivers to meet additional hurdles to get permits in Portland. They would, for example, have to show the city an endorsement from their car insurance company acknowledging they're using their care for commercial use part-time — an effort to avoid uncertainty over who's responsible for in the event of a crash.

©2015 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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