Yesterday’s Portland City Council work session to rebuild our “broken” taxi code and allow transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft to operate alongside traditional cab companies may have answered some questions—but commissioners aren’t ready to settle on details just yet.
“It’s important that we do this right,” says Commissioner Amanda Fritz. “It’s not important that we do it fast.”
City commissioners were scheduled to vote today on recommendations hastily patched together by Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Private For-Hire Innovation Task Force over the last four months. In December, Uber agreed to temporarily suspend Portland service while administrators worked out permitting and code issues so TNCs can legally operate in the city.
At an April 9 public hearing, task force members presented their recommendations—which call for near complete deregulation of an industry that’s been regulated to the teeth for decades—to a skeptical council, which mostly seemed to side with taxi companies and advocates that the recommendations gave too many unfair advantages to TNCs, but also favored trying deregulation for a 120 day pilot period.
“I think it’s worth it to see what happens, with no regulations, to the customer,” says Commissioner Steve Novick.
While they’re considering deregulating the number of cabs allowed on roads and removing caps on fare rates, the commissioners still have to regulate certain aspects of the industry. The stickiest points they are trying to work through include equal access regulations, permitting and background check requirements, and insurance coverage levels.
The task force recommended requiring that TNCs contract with companies that own wheelchair accessible vehicles in order to satisfy Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but cabbies argue that creates an uneven playing field since traditional fleet companies have to buy a certain number of ADA-accessible vans, which are expensive (and apparently hard to come by).
Not only that, but Commissioner Nick Fish pointed out TNCs have tried to claim their business model makes them exempt from compliance with ADA requirements.
“Anyone in America has the right to say Title III doesn’t apply to them,” Fish says. “But to me, at some point, that will predict the behavior of the company, if a company has taken a strong stance.”
There’s no set date on when the commission will make a strong stance on this issue, but both Uber and Lyft representatives last week agreed to keep drivers out of Portland until the matter is settled.
Francesca Patricolo, a program specialist with PBOT, said she doesn't know of any scheduled work sessions or when the commissioners may vote on revamped city code.