- Mark Markovich
Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick this morning unveiled a copy of proposed changes to the city's rules around Private For-Hire Transportation. The regulations will be formally unveiled at a November 5 Portland City Council meeting, but they won't shock anyone who's paid attention to the process.
If you'd hoped the city's cab companies would be placated by the final rules after months of debate, prepare to be disappointed. Cabbies have railed against Uber and Lyft all year (and rapidly lost market share once the companies got up and running). Their biggest gripe has been that the city doesn't hold the so-called "transportation network companies" (TNCs) to the same standards, and they'll almost certainly still have concerns around insurance requirements. They aren't offering formal comment, just yet.
For now, here's are a few of the more interesting morsels from the new proposed rules. A full version is here [pdf].
•The city's formally casting aside its requirement that cab companies dedicate a certain percentage of their fleet to vehicles that can transport wheelchairs. For the past several months, cab companies and TNCs have instead been trying to hit benchmarks for timely service to disabled passengers. That'll continue, but the city's looking for a way to recoup cab companies for the cost of maintaining their existing wheelchair fleets. Expect a "mandated, minimal fare fee" to be tacked onto your cab and TNC rides to pay for that.
•And that won't be the only tacked-on fee. The city's talking about a 40-to-50-cent surcharge on all rides to pay for enforcing its new rules. Bryan Hockaday, a policy adviser in Novick's office says the surcharge is expected to make around $2 million a year, and will be used in part to hire "two to three" new enforcement staffers at the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT).
Update, 5 pm: It's this provision cab drivers are attacking most. They say the surcharge is actually a tax, and that Novick wants to force the public to pay for companies' permitting fees. "Like the proposed street fee, the Novick proposal would pass all public agency costs directly onto the public," Kelliann Amico, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Fairness Alliance, which represents most Portland cab companies, said in a statement this afternoon. "The proposal contains no limit on these new taxes, increases costs, and decreases government efficiency." In a subsequent conversation, Amico said it's unfair customers would have to pay the cost of permits. Under the old system, though, poorly paid cabbies paid out $600 a year for permits.
•The pioneering data sharing agreements that the city made with Uber and Lyft aren't going anywhere. The agreements had been billed as a means for the city to craft better rules for cabs and TNCs, but now that they're up and running, PBOT sees no reason to discontinue them. "We found the data to be incredibly helpful in really giving us a clear understanding of what's going on," Hockaday says.
•Background checks have been another sticking point for cabbies—who claim Uber's system misses red flags. And Portland's requirements are set to change under the new rules—though not because of cabbies protestations. It's because the Oregon State Police have decided the city has no business snooping around in its database, as it has for years. Now, instead of asking the city to do snooping, both cabbies and TNCs will have to contract with an accredited background-check service. Or, they can use an accredited background-check service PBOT plans to partner with.
•PBOT's proposing new tests drivers have to pass if they want to be permitted. That's not all that interesting except for the list now includes quizzing on "Vision Zero principles of traffic safety."
•As was the case in the months-long pilot program, cabs and TNCs can set their fares at whatever they like, and put an unlimited amount of drivers out on the streets. They can also charge more during peak demand times.
•As noted above, the city's insurance requirements for TNCs hasn't changed. Because of the companies' business model, the city requires different levels of coverage depending on whether, say, an Uber driver is sitting around waiting for a fare to pop up, or is actively en route to pick up a passenger. Cabbies have said this is a recipe for disaster, but Hockaday says it's the best option. "We spent a lot of time researching the insurance issues," he says, adding that the requirements may change in the future.
•Surprisingly, no rules prevent Uber from bringing you kittens (a practice which I'm told the Mercury solidly opposes).