Those with an iron (or a fleet of irons) in the fire that is Portland’s rapidly changing private for-hire transportation industry had a busy Wednesday.

Both the city’s Private for-Hire Transportation Board of Review (known as the Taxi Board, though they represent many types of for-hire transportation companies) and the Innovation Task Force met, separately to discuss the future of for-hire regulations in the city. While both groups made some headway, neither made any concrete decisions.

The Taxi Board was scheduled to review applications for three new cab companies—PDX Yellow Cab Drivers Association, Rainbow Cab Co., LLC, and United Independent Cab—but didn’t have a quorum. Instead, Kelly Sills from the Board of Transportation allowed audience members to ask questions and make comments, and comment they did.

Turns out, we can blame the shortage of ADA-accessible vehicles, and therefore overall cabs on Portland streets, on Ford Motor Company. Thanks a lot, Ford!

When the Board of Review in February approved licensing abut 250 new taxis in Portland, they stipulated that before a company would be granted any new vehicle permits, it must bring its total number of vehicles that comply with accessibility standards set up by the American Disabilities Act. Board member Kirk Foster said owners would love to buy those expensive ADA-accessible vans, but there aren’t any to be bought.

“There is a nationwide shortage of ADA-compliant vehicles, and Ford is backed up for months,” he said. “I’ve had two on order that they promised me this week, but they’re not going to be here until June. The ones that were supposed to be coming in May got pushed back to July.”

A member of the audience suggested the Board of Review, at the next meeting with a quorum, vote on a motion to allow taxi permits to companies that can prove they’ve taken pertinent steps to increase the size of their ADA-accessible fleets and are on a waiting list. Both Sills and Frank Dufay, a PBOT program manager, thought that was a logical idea and agreed to add a vote on the topic to the next meetings agenda.

That is, assuming there is a next meeting; Innovation Task Force member Richard Lazar, representing the Technology Association of Oregon, suggested the group at its next meeting consider dissolving or changing the composition of the Board of Review.

Bryan Hockaday, a representative from Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick’s office who acts as a liaison between the task force and the review board, confirmed Lazar broached the idea, but said he didn’t know whether the idea could get traction.

One idea that had a lot of traction with the task force at its morning meeting was an insurance structure for ride-share drivers. The issue of having private vehicles used as for-hire taxis that don’t have regularly scheduled shifts creates an insurance snafu that jurisdictions across the country are grappling with, Hockaday says.

The central question: When are ride-share drivers covered by commercial insurance and when are they covered by personal insurance? Let’s say a driver is in his car with the app on, waiting to be matched with a ride. Is he working then? Or maybe he’s got a match and gets in a wreck on the way to pick up the fare. Does the commercial insurer pay or does the driver’s personal insurance cover the costs?

The task force identified three possible states a ride-share driver can be in:
1) The app is on, the driver is waiting but hasn’t yet accepted a match.
2) The driver has been matched with a rider and is en route to pick up.
3) The rider is in the car (this stage goes from the second the passenger door opens until the fare has been paid, the receipt given, and the rider is out of the car).

“Stages two and three are clearly commercial activity, so person auto coverage isn’t going to cover these stages,” Hockaday said. “Stage one is the gray area. Is it commercial activity?”

The task force has one more meeting—on April 2—to re-jigger their draft recommendations before presenting them to city council on April 9, and again on April 15 when council will vote to approve a resolution directing PBOT to begin implementing the changes.