Portland City Council not ready to roll on Uber rules

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

PORTLAND — City councilors are still navigating the road to regulation for rideshare companies like Uber.

On Feb. 18, the City Council Transportation, Sustainability & Energy Committee heard testimony and considered a draft ordinance from City Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta to establish fees and regulations for drivers and companies. The changes would be part of Chapter 30 of the city code, which covers taxis, liveries and horse-drawn carriages.

“We are not in a rush by any means, we want to make a good decision,” Committee Chairman David Marshall said Feb. 19, adding that a second public hearing will be held March 18.

Uber, which arranges rides in privately owned vehicles via a smartphone app that also handles payment, arrived in the city last October, and is available in about 290 cities globally.

Uber spokeswoman Kaitlin Durkosh on Feb. 22 said the regulatory effort is not a surprise.

“We welcome smart regulations for ridesharing,” she said in an email. “In fact, 23 jurisdictions across the country have passed regulatory frameworks for ridesharing, recognizing that their existing transportation regulations are outdated and don’t apply to this new option.”

Transportation network companies have been regulated by state and local ordinances in Colorado, Washington, D.C., Tulsa, Oklahoma and Spokane, Washington.

When Uber began offering ride services in the city last October, West-Chuhta noted, the service was not governed by any applicable ordinances.

West-Chuhta on Monday said she wrote the ordinance draft knowing it carries many requirements that are already part of Uber corporate policies, to ensure the regulations stay in place even if company policies change.

While Marshall and Councilor Jon Hinck, the committee vice chairman, said it is too early to tell if the committee will use all or part of the draft from West-Chuhta, Durkosh called it inadequate.

“The current draft does not take our innovative business model into account,” Durkosh said. “We look forward to working with City Council and staff on a set of sensible regulations that work best for riders and drivers by supporting choice and opportunity.”

Hinck on Feb. 20 said he supports some kind of regulation.

“I think something along the lines of what (West-Chuhta) suggested would be needed at a minimum,” he said. “I don’t think we should be about the business of preserving the status quo, no matter what.”

West-Chuhta’s draft calls for transportation network drivers to be licensed, for an annual fee of $500; requires all rides to be pre-arranged (no cruising for fares), and for transportation network companies to post methods for calculating fares and an option to receive a fare estimate before a ride is booked.

The draft would also require companies to conduct background checks on driver’s driving and criminal histories every two years; provide a receipt including a route map and fare after each ride, and require drivers to carry $1 million each in liability insurance and coverage against uninsured drivers that is effective from the time a ride is arranged.

The ordinance draft also bars transportation network operations from the Portland International Jetport unless authorized by the city, and then under “rules adopted and revised by the Jetport Director.”

West-Chuhta and Hinck said they also want customers to be aware of “surge pricing” policies that can boost fares at times of high customer demand.

Hinck said he would like to avoid having transportation network vehicles empty while drivers are on duty, and for the app to show which vehicle is closest to a customer when a ride is requested.

“The vision is the possibility that all the companies are on the same dispatch system,” Hinck said. “But I don’t see this run or paid for by the city. I’m talking about allowing the market players to develop such a system, if they want to.”

Hinck and Marshall said safety is the highest priority of any regulation, and both said “a level playing field” for taxis and transportation network companies is critical.

Marshall added the companies may fit better in the ordinance section covering livery companies, or councilors could wait and see how and if the state Legislature acts.

“We do not have to regulate for regulation’s sake, the footprint should be as light as possible to ensure safety and fairness for people,” Hinck said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

0
Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.