• Mark Markovich

The city's kept a tight leash on for-hire transportation options for decades. Easing up on that grip is proving more involved than planned.

Portland City Council quietly agreed this morning to double the amount it's spending to overhaul the city's rules around cabs, ride-hailing services, pedicabs, and other transportation options. From a $50,000 contract with local consultants Cogan Owens Cogan LLC, city council now says it's up for spending $106,160. The endpoint for the contract has been extended from September 15 to the end of the year.

Commissioners approved the contract increase this morning as part of the council's consent agenda, meaning it saw no discussion and was passed in bulk with other ordinances. It goes into effect immediately.

"The scope of work ended up being a bit more than we had anticipated," says Bryan Hockaday, a policy adviser for City Commissioner Steve Novick, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). "The issue of how Portland regulates for hire transportation service is very complicated."

Since January, a task force has met several times a month to look at how Portland regulates cabs, town cars, and similar services. The overhaul had been discussed for years, but was ultimately hastened because Uber began operating in Portland late last year in violation of city rules. The company agreed to back down if the city would finally update its cab code to allow for so-called transportation network companies (TNCs)—and drop a lawsuit it had filed.

The task force's work resulted in a four-month pilot project that began in late April, and is the reason why you can access Uber and Lyft in town right now. Those recommendations comprise a temporary "phase one" of the group's work. A more formal set of recommendations is expected in August, but the group needs to hammer out tweaks into the fall.

"After August, the task force will continue to meet," says Hockaday. "It’s phase three, really."

He says the group's nearly six months of effort haven't quite tied up the $50,000 chunk Portland agreed to spend, but that an additional $56,160 is needed to complete the work. That's in line with additional estimates for the process, according to Hockaday. PBOT planned on a year of work and a $100,000 price tag. The money will come from PBOT's budget.

City council is scheduled to hear a report on the city's pilot project—which involves unheard of data-sharing agreements with Uber and Lyft—on July 15.