CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS were jammed clown-car tight last week, as commissioners considered rules that would give Uber and Lyft lasting permission to operate in Portland.
The city's cabbies showed up en masse, arguing the so-called transportation network companies (TNCs) are getting an unfairly sweet deal. Uber and Lyft drivers came, too, wearing matching shirts and ready to cheer on the new regs. The scene was so packed that a visiting tourist delegation from Japan was left standing in the balcony's back row to watch the battle unfold.
But there was also a smaller, more-interesting contingent sitting, frustrated, in the audience: Representatives from sectors of the city's "private for-hire transportation" industry that have looked on as taxis and TNCs exchanged blows over the last year. These are pedicab companies, and outfits that drive Medicaid patients to doctor appointments. Limos and carriages, as well.
For months, they'd been assured their time would come—that once this Uber business was done, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) would seek their input on potential changes to regulations that dictate their livelihoods. Then the new TNC rules came out, and it turned out the city hadn't waited at all. Inserted into the new code are all manner of new regulations that some companies say are disastrous.
For instance, there's a requirement that pedicab companies—which offer tricycle transport—must have car insurance in addition to existing liability insurance. Their operators, according to the new rules, need to have driver's licenses. That was never discussed with pedicab representatives.
There's also a restriction that no for-hire vehicles can be more than 10 years old, when just a few years ago the city carved out an exemption to that limit for some wheelchair-accessible vans, many of which are currently allowed to operate for 15 years. That's a worry for folks who drive patients to medical appointments, but the city never bothered to ask them about it.
And there are stiffer rules for how many traffic tickets drivers at these companies may have. The old rule was that more than two in a year could disqualify you from a city license. Now it's more than one—a fact that PBOT's summary of the proposed rules blatantly misrepresented.
"Just under 20 percent of my drivers would have to be terminated if the code passes," says Kirk Foster, who employs around 40 people at Wapato Shores Transport, a Portland medical transport company. "I will guarantee you it puts hundreds of people in the unemployment line if it passes."
Foster and others are flummoxed that PBOT would float new rules without consulting them. "We were promised our own process," he says.
So was this just sloppy rulemaking or terrible communication? And is that process Foster counted on still coming?
Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick's office says it is, but isn't offering much more comment. Meanwhile, PBOT spokesman John Brady answered my lengthy inquiry with two sentences noting "minor code fixes" would be addressed when council next takes up the rules, suggesting some of the new regulations might be excised. He didn't elaborate.
Turns out it's not just pedicabs getting scant communication.