By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor
Those pro-union cabbies were so polite and law-abiding. They asked the City of Portland for permission to form a new driver-owned co-op, Union Cab, and then waited 22 months for the City to say yes.
Uber, by contrast, didn’t bother applying for permits. The app-based ride company launched operations in Portland on Dec. 5 in flagrant violation of City code. Thirteen days later, Mayor Charlie Hales announced that the City will develop a completely new regulatory framework by April 9, 2015, to allow companies like Uber to operate legally. Uber — facing a City lawsuit and $67,750 in fines — graciously suspended its illegal operation while the City works to make it legal.
To develop the new rules, the City snubbed its existing advisory board — the Private for-Hire Transportation Board of Review — and instead appointed a task force chaired by Mike Greenfield, former director of the State of Oregon Department of Administrative Services. The City needed a “fresh look,” explained Brian Hockaday, aide to Commissioner Steve Novick, at the Private for-Hire Board’s Jan. 7 meeting.
Taxi drivers and company representatives grilled Hockaday at the two-hour meeting, but got few answers as to how the rules will be changed.
“I’m really not trying to be evasive,” Hockaday said. “I have no idea what it’s going to look like.”
Broadway Cab general manager Raye Miles voiced frustration that the City had a backlog of over 100 new permit requests, and yet promised an illegal operator to change the rules in 90 days.
“Would that have worked for Broadway?” Miles asked Hockaday. “If we just started operating more vehicles, would we be getting the attention?”
“I want to make it really clear,” Hockaday replied. “We have not made any sort of commitment with Uber or any other company on any specific obligations.”
The new task force will hold its first meeting Jan. 14. But every feature of existing regulations will be up for reconsideration: whether the City should regulate fares or limit the number of taxi permits, whether it should require insurance, inspections and background checks, whether it should require companies to be accessible to the handicapped.
“I don’t know what the City’s going to do,” said Union Cab president Kedir Wako, a member of Communications Workers of America Local 7901. “We’re watching it closely. It’s going to be a big issue in our life.”