Portland's taxi fleet may be imperfect, but at least it's Portland. Keep in mind that Radio and Broadway Cab have each been taking your drunken ass home for over 70 years now. Radio Cab is driver-owned and organized as a co-op. So is Union Cab. Broadway invested in a green office building recently and all their dispatchers are union organized. New Rose City and Green Cab are minority-owned businesses that have also been around for decades. And most Portland taxi companies own their own building. This means they pay local property taxes. They pay city business taxes. They employ dispatchers and office workers and pay payroll taxes.
When you call Uber, you're making a decision to remove money from the local economy and send it out of state. That money could be putting a computer in your kid's classroom, fixing a pothole on Sandy Blvd., or modernizing a fire station in your neighborhood. Instead, you're sending 20% of your fare into the pockets of venture capitalists in California. They're taking your money and flipping you the bird in the same instant.
Portland talks a lot of talk about micro-craft this and locavore that. Just keep in mind that Uber is part of the same continuum of enterprises that either upholds local, autonomous, community-based values, or undermines them. By operating in direct defiance of local laws, Uber is showing unabashed contempt for the Portland community. They deserve as much in return.
Good question, ujfoyt. When I last drove for Broadway in 2012 I paid $450 a week for a seven-day, 12-hour day shift. The seven-day lease was the only lease you could get, and my night driver also paid the same amount. So the company was taking in $900 a week. That's just shy of $47,000 per year to lease a used Ford Crown Vic cop cruiser that's typically purchased at auction with 100,000 miles on it for about $3000. Multiply that by a fleet of 128 taxis plus other non-taxi vehicles such as wheelchair vans and it starts to add up rather nicely for the company. Lease rates (a.k.a. "The Kitty") are even higher for lease drivers at Radio, but it varies. The kitty plus fuel can easily exceed $100 a day in operating expenses.
The main reason Broadway can take a $3000 car, paint it and wire it for taxi service, then charge $47,000 a year to lease it is because the city of Portland issues taxi permits to the taxi companies, not the drivers. This gives the companies a monopolized control over the permits and allows them to charge drivers whatever they can get away with. When I served as drivers' rep, I lobbied like hell to get the permits issued to the drivers. If drivers controlled the permits, we'd have had an essential bargaining tool that would force the companies to compete for our patronage. Instead, we had to take what they offered. This study from 2012 showed that Portland taxi drivers made substantially less than minimum wage: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportati…
In response to Alex Reed's comment above, the link you site indicating that Portland lags behind other cities in per capita taxi service is obsolete and irrelevant. Portland expanded its taxi fleet by 20% in early 2013 after Mayor Adams caved to the influence of the CWA union. (This is where Union Cab came from). And the apples-to-oranges comparison to taxi service in Chicago or San Francisco denies relevant city planning and transportation issues such as urban growth boundaries, population density, mass transit infrastructure, bike lanes, climate and terrain, etc. It's difficult to gauge actual demand for taxi services, but the notion that Portland has fewer taxis than Atlanta or Las Vegas is probably a good thing. It means we've cultivated a smarter, more efficient means of managing mobility.
I drove cab over a twenty year period in Seattle and Portland and served as Portland's taxi driver representative in 2011 and 2012. I left when Mayor Adams glutted the market with new taxis and made it impossible for honest workers to make a living in that industry. The facts are that there are 168 hours in a week and you should be able to get a taxi anywhere in Portland within ten minutes during 150 of those hours. The exceptions occur during peak demand on Friday and Saturday nights and sometimes during rush hour. The relative isolation of the St. John's neighborhood also makes this a slow response area. Unfortunately, the economics of the taxi industry mean that you can't establish a peak-demand fleet and expect it to operate profitably during those other 150 hours. Uber's presence will do nothing to alter this fundamental economic reality. And the fact that they are an out-of-state corporate behemoth assures that they have no interest in respecting the local Portland community.
Stopped for Open Carry in Eugene, OR:
Good point, Allan. Among the proposals recommended by city staff is an increase in the taxi rates which the majority of cabdrivers oppose for reasons you've just described – they drive away customers. The city contends that the increase in rates will be necessary to offset the 35% loss of market share each driver will endure when those 132 new cabs hit the streets. This is yet another reason why the mayor's plans for the taxi industry fail to serve the community.
I'd like to clarify this sentence: "Since drivers are independent contractors, companies can legally pay them less than minimum wage..." This is misleading to the point of being untrue. Taxi drivers don't work for taxi companies and don't collect any wage at all. We make our money by collecting fares from passengers. Taxi companies make their money by charging drivers for taxi services such as car leasing, dispatch, and so on.
Once a taxi company collects its kitty from the driver, it has no vested interest in whether or not that driver prospers. The key to changing this dynamic is to assign taxi permits to drivers, not to taxi companies. This would force the companies to compete against one another for access to driver-controlled permits, and this competition would improve working conditions for drivers. The present system of allowing companies to monopolize permits creates a circumstance where the companies are making their money not by providing competitive taxi services, but by charging the drivers to access the permits.
We hope the transportation board and the mayor will soon give serious consideration to adopting a driver-controlled permitting system. To this end, I have sent a proposal to city staff at the Revenue Bureau in hopes that this idea can be fully examined and debated. The full proposal – known as the Prodan Legacy Permit proposal in memory of a recently deceased driver – should be posted on our website by the end of this week and can be viewed at www.cabdriversalliance.com. Hopefully it will also get an airing at the next transportation board meeting to be held at 1:30 on Feb. 22nd.
Portland Taxi Drivers' Representative
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