Most of Union Cab’s 50 orange-and-blue vehicles are brand-new Toyota Prius hybrids, and they’re equipped with dashboard computers and a digital dispatch system that uses GPS to help drivers respond quickly to service requests.
The launch is the culmination of a years-long effort by a group of immigrant drivers who campaigned against exploitation by several Portland cab companies, helped by Communications Workers of America Local 7901 and the Oregon AFL-CIO. A City of Portland study found that taxi drivers, classed as independent contractors, average less than $6.22 an hour after paying “kitties” of over $500 a week to companies like Broadway. But at the one driver-owned co-op — Radio Cab — kitties were lower, and earnings higher. In November, Portland City Council approved 50 new taxi permits so that Union Cab could form as a second driver-owned co-op. [Like most cities, Portland regulates the taxi industry, and limits the number of taxis that may operate.]
In January, Union Cab leased an office at 14415 SE Stark. Union Cab’s new driver-owners haven’t yet secured affordable health insurance, a major goal. But they’re the first taxi drivers in Portland to have comprehensive auto insurance for their vehicles, AND occupational accident insurance. [The drivers, as independent contractors, aren’t eligible for workers compensation if they’re injured on the job in a collision.]
Customers can call 503-408-1234 — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — and be picked up by a Union Cab, driven by a member of CWA Local 7901.
If all goes as planned, customers will eventually be able to reserve a cab at Union Cab’s web site, unioncabpdx.com; by text message; and even via a smartphone app that shows where your cab is and how long it will take to arrive. Union Cab also expects to install back-seat swipe machines to process credit card transactions.