Cabbies Protest New Permits

This morning, a group of about 20 Portland cab drivers circled city hall in yellow, green, and blue taxis, honking their horns and attracting the watchful eyes of cops. The drivers were protesting the city’s plans to increase Portland’s taxi fleet by 35 percent. As we've reported earlier, the issues over adding cabs to the city is dividing Portland’s drivers.

At stake is whether or not the city should add an additional 132 new permits to the 382 already in operation. Leading the protest against the new permits is taxi driver Red Diamond, who contends the new permits will over-saturate the market and take money out of current drivers’ pockets.

"This is a political fix. If you look at the numbers, these don't line up," Diamond told the Mercury at a small press conference this morning. Diamond said the data showing that Portland has far fewer taxis than other comparable cities misses the point. He also questions the data itself, saying Portland officials purposefully picked cities that would skew the data and to get everyone on the new-permit bandwagon.

UPDATE 2:58 PM, November 1: Mayor Sam Adams’ Deputy Chief of Staff Amy Ruiz responded to Diamond’s claim with this email statement:

The cities represented in the data are Portland's "comparable cities." Six were originally chosen by the Auditor's office (Seattle, Denver, Sacramento, KC, Cincinnati, Charlotte), based on population and other characteristics that make them similar to Portland. For the purposes of the taxi comparisons, Revenue worked with the Auditor's office to augment those six with other mid-sized cities comparable to Portland, including Minneapolis and Honolulu.

Diamond says he and other drivers are currently investigating whether they can pursue legal action against the city. "We have very good reason to believe,” said Diamond, “the city operated in violation of city code."

Diamond’s argument here rests on a bit of technicality. Basically he claims the city’s Revenue Bureau, which partially oversees taxi permits, broke the rules by not giving him and other drivers enough time to review its permit recommendations prior to releasing them to the Private for Hire Transportation Board, which also oversees permits. But there is a flip side to this debate.

The pro-permit cabbies are being lead by members of Union Cab, a would-be driver-owned cooperative that needs the new permits to start their company. As you can imagine, these guys and Diamond don’t get along.

At a meeting last month, the Private for Hire Transportation Board voted on whether to approve the new permits and both Union Cab members and Diamond used the meeting as an opportunity to discredit each other. Multiple Union Cab members accused Diamond of being xenophobic and racist, referring to earlier statements he made about the cooperative’s ethnic make up and his suspicions that cab members were going to give jobs to out-of-town family members. For his part, Diamond, who officially represents drivers on the transportation board, told the board that Union Cab members were selfish for wanting the new permits. But Diamond lost his fight at the meeting: In the end, the board voted overwhelmingly for the new company and permits.

It’s now up to city council to decide whether or not to approve the new permits and Union Cab. How the commissioners and Mayor Sam Adams will vote is now the big question. But Diamond says Union Cab has a friend in Adams, in fact, the cabbie is now publicly accusing the mayor of back door dealings with Union Cab and the Communication Workers of America (CWA), which helped the cab drivers form their co-op. Local CWA President Madelyn Elder says this is ridiculous.

"The truth is, I'm not really important," says Elder. "I'm just a stupid cable splicer who got elected to my local...It's the same attack labor gets all the time, that we’re throwing our weight around and this crap about convincing the mayor to do our bidding, that's just bullshit. The truth is Sam [Adams] listened to the drivers and he found their stories compelling."

City council is expected to vote on Union Cab and the new permits next Wednesday, November 7, and—if what’s happened in the cabby clash so far is any clue—we can expect more riveting public theater.