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As Uber launches in Vancouver WA, Portland is one of just two major U.S. cities without ride-hailing

Posted by on July 14th, 2014 at 5:16 pm

vancouver map

(Screen capture from Uber’s Vancouver website)

Portland is now the largest major city in the United States where the private ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft aren’t operating — but as of last week, one is now up and running in its largest suburb.

Uber Vancouver, WA launched last week, just ahead of today’s vote by Seattle City Council to fully legalize the services, which remain illegal under Portland’s taxi regulations.

The apps essentially let ordinary drivers turn their cars into taxis, much like Getaround turns private cars into Zipcars and Airbnb turns spare bedrooms into hotel rooms. They also open up big liability issues — especially when one of them claims that it isn’t liable for damages when one of its drivers kills a six-year-old in between fares. But the compromise Seattle approved today sets requirements for the insurance that these drivers-for-hire must acquire.

Uber’s new Vancouver service, which was tested Sunday by KGW-TV, allows people to hail a ride leading outside Vancouver’s urban area (including Portland) but not a ride coming back. Rides cost $1.50 plus $1.65 per mile, with a minimum fare of $6. In some cities Uber also offers a higher-cost service with professional drivers, UberBlack, but that service isn’t available in Vancouver.

Uber and Lyft drivers have the right to refuse fares.

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According to the fast-growing ride-hailing services’ websites, of the country’s top 40 metro areas, there are only two that don’t currently offer either Uber or Lyft: Portland and Las Vegas.

Last month in Austin, both companies launched even though they’re illegal in the city. Uber and/or Lyft are also operating in cities like St. Louis, Mo.; Modesto, Calif.; Toledo, Ohio; Greenville, SC; Annapolis, Md. and Fort Collins, Colo., among many others.

Last year, Uber used an ice cream delivery stunt to draw attention to an unsuccessful bid to change Portland city code.

The company turned heads last month when it was valued at $17 billion, a sign that investors see its technology as a major improvement over taxis and, maybe, a gateway to self-driving car services that could dramatically reduce urban car ownership by making carsharing more convenient.

Uber, Lyft and smaller startups such as Sidecar, sometimes known as transportation network companies or TNCs, differ from taxis in that they let users hail rides using a smartphone app; they assume cashless, tipless transactions by keeping users’ credit cards on file; and they map the route for both driver and user.

Crucially, they’re also less regulated than taxi companies. As of 2012, Portland city code allows only 432 taxis to pick up fares within city limits, creating one of the lowest taxi supplies in North America.

It’s possible that by making taxi services more prompt or pleasant, ride-hailing apps are reducing drunken driving. In today’s Monday Roundup, we linked to stories from three cities that showed a possible association.

Local taxi companies and drivers are surely watching these companies with interest. Commenting beneath this morning’s roundup, reader PJ wrote that “living in a household supported by cabbing we are making plan B and C on how to deal with this right now. I would rather get in a cab with a licensed and trained cabbie any day over some random stranger with an iPhone.”

Of course, TNCs also create new jobs, or at least income streams, for their own drivers.

“Drivers are live and on the road,” Uber spokeswoman Brooke Steger wrote in an email Monday. “We are still actively partnering with new drivers though and will continue to work to build reliable supply.”

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Peter W
Guest

Having used these in San Francisco, I’ve found Lyft and Uber are great as a fallback service (or a cheaper alternative to transit for short trips, if you rideshare with enough friends). By making it easier to get around with a car without owning a car, hopefully they actually help reduce vehicle ownership and thus VMT.

That said, both services require drivers to own cars. I don’t think we should let them operate in Portland until they give the OK to drivers of pedalcabs, xtracycles, and bakfiets.

Christopher Sanderson
Guest

I find this quote interesting: “I would rather get in a cab with a licensed and trained cabbie any day over some random stranger with an iPhone.” I think I can understand where this person is coming from, but honestly some of the sketchiest drivers I have experienced are taxi cab drivers. Many of them punch the gas when a light turns green, driver over the speed limit, brake hard, and take riders on longer routes than is what is necessary. Taxi drivers also have little to no accountability. With both Uber and Lyft, users can rate their drivers. Also, through their apps, one can pay for the ride instead of having to fish for cash or having that awkward moment of processing a credit card in the cab after the ride. I hope Oregon (or Portland?) law provides the environment to have these services here in Portland.

Charlie
Guest
Charlie

I’d rather the city just increase the number of permitted taxis. 432 is ridiculously low.

Josh Berezin
Guest
Josh Berezin

I found this quote from the Uber CEO from a recent New York Times interview interesting:

“The whole point of price cuts is to get UberX pricing below the cost of owning a car. Let’s say you take three or four trips a day on average. If we can get the price of UberX low enough, we can get to where it’s cheaper to take Uber than to own a car.”

More here.

William Henderson
Guest

I’m quite surprised to see Bike Portland giving such one-sided, glowing coverage to an extremely controversial company. You might not agree with Portland’s reasons for keeping Uber at Bay, but let’s take full advantage of the slow process of democracy by having a conversation about the pros and cons here. You’ve done a good job at outlining the pros, so I’ll jump on the other side of the boat:

First and foremost, Uber is taking a publicly-regulated city service and making it fully privatized and unregulated. That is, after all, what has allowed them to innovate and grow so quickly while taxis commissions are still stuck in the stone age. But consider what will happen when the company starts getting pressure from their investors to make good on their extremely high valuation. They are a for-profit company, and their sole duty is in maximizing profit for their share holders. When the bill comes due, they might still be aligned with the interests of the city, they might not. Without regulation, there is absolutely nothing guaranteeing that they will keep the best interest of cities and citizens in mind. You could argue that we can regulate them after the fact, when the problems emerge. But why not start there? What parts of the taxi system are broken and what parts are worth keeping around? If we relax the right rules, perhaps we can allow local companies to compete with Uber while preserving the parts of the taxi system that have the city’s long term best interests in mind.

A great example is this is insurance coverage. City code requires (https://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/?c=28593#cid_254406) for-hire transportation companies to have comprehensive insurance for vehicles and drivers. In SF, Uber attempted to deny coverage when one of their driver’s hit and killed a 6 year old girl (http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Uber-denies-fault-in-S-F-crash-that-killed-girl-5458290.php). The company’s position is that driver was never an employee of Uber, and because they were not actively carrying a passenger Uber had no bearing on responsibility in the crash. Allegedly the driver was using the Uber app at the time of the crash. Uber later agreed to provide coverage in cases where a driver’s personal liability insurance denies it. It’s unclear whether Uber provided any coverage in this case, but they’ve made it clear that the expect liability burdens to be met by personal insurance in the future (see here: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-03-14/uber-tries-to-convince-drivers-and-lawmakers-theyre-covered). Many cities (NYC, SF, Boston, Chicago to name a few) where Uber is active are now finding themselves in conflict over the issue of liability.

Uber’s careful avoidance of classifying drivers as employees has all sorts of other consequences. Like any freelancer, they are responsible paying for for health insurance, liability insurance, retirement, gas, auto expenses, etc etc. Uber’s claims that Uber drivers make $90k are quite overstated. And of course, Uber holds all the power in controlling these wages. There are no regulations or unionization backstops here. And if anyone can hop in their car and become a driver for UberX, you can guess where the average wage is likely to go. Particularly as Uber moves to secure market domination and return value to their share-holders. You can already see the start of this in the complaints and protests of UberX drivers in SF (http://time.com/92988/uberx-san-francisco-protest-uber/).

In conclusion, I’ll return to the big question: what should the role of purely private companies be in providing basic services for cities? Do we trust them to always and forever be the best thing for Portland? Do we risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater when we allow Uber to completely circumnavigate our (admittedly complex/byzantine) regulatory system? How can we encourage Portland to create regulation and partnerships that foster innovative services without throwing out the safety nets?

kittens
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kittens

Taxi driving is one of the last jobs an unskilled worker can do and still make a living. Often these are first generation Americans. Though it would be totally naive to ask a consumer to think of anything or anyone but their own bottom line and desires… people should think of the impact this would have on our community as a whole. You buy organic milk right?

WalMart, Amazon.com, Uber, these giants are gobbling up every last shred of marketshare and human dignity and give little in return. Yes, present taxi services can suck. There should be more customer service checks in the system. But these can be rectified through the same technology.

The city of Portland and thousands of others have for decades tightly regulated the taxi supply to insure folks can make a living providing the service. It works 99% of the time. Maybe not on NYE. We all have stories.

As for the effects of ride-sharing on the transportation network as a whole, I thought the goal was to DECREASE the use of private cars, not further enable them with novel technological solutions.

Lastly, Drunk driving deaths decreased sharply over the last three decades with our current taxi system through aggressive law enforcement and education efforts. By your rationale ride-sharing would serve to ease alcohol consumption substance intoxication. Who benefits from encouraging more folks to go out and drink more?

Ridesharing seems like a brilliant idea until you start to unpack it.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

Unregulated driver with their attention focused on their I-Phones as they await a fare is not my idea of a great way to run a commercial driving enterprise. I imagine that payment is in cash so that taxes are avoided.
Kittens nailed it, this is just another symptom of a struggling economy in a devaluing spiral.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

kittens
WalMart, Amazon.com, Uber, these giants are gobbling up every last shred of marketshare and human dignity and give little in return. Yes, present taxi services can suck. There should be more customer service checks in the system. But these can be rectified through the same technology.

Corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to achieve the highest return on investment possible, it is literally the law. Slamming a company that is working within the law is pointless.
If you don’t like the rules, change the rules the corporations have to play by. This means you have to change those that make the laws, or petition for new laws.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

“WalMart, Amazon.com, Uber, these giants are gobbling up every last shred of marketshare and human dignity and give little in return. Yes, present taxi services can suck. There should be more customer service checks in the system. But these can be rectified through the same technology.”

Corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to achieve the highest return on investment possible, it is literally the law. Slamming a company that is working within the law is pointless.
If you don’t like the rules, change the rules the corporations have to play by. This means you have to change those that make the laws, or petition for new laws.

SteveG
Guest
SteveG

We need to take a collective deep breath and stop thinking of Portland as a “leader” in transportation innovation — and thinking of bikes as a silver bullet. Bikes are awesome, but they don’t work for everyone, all the time.

Let’s refocus on considering and promoting a full range of alternative transportation options. If we create a multi-modal transportation “mesh,” we realistically take on the real problem: private cars and all of their negative impacts.

IMO we should thoughtfully embrace TNCs like Lyft and Uber, carsharing in all of its flavors (Zipcar, Car2go, Getaround, RelayRides), bike-sharing, long-distance ridesharing like BlaBlaCar, Trimet, Amtrak, the Bolt Bus and various other app-enabled alternatives to reliance on private, personal cars.

The sooner we all stop navel-gazing and thinking that Portland is still a transportation leader, the sooner we’ll reclaim our place at the front of the pack, next to cities like Helsinki, which has lots of bicyclists, and just announced a goal of making private cars obsolete in ten years:

http://time.com/2974984/finland-helsinki-private-car-obsolete-environment-climate-change-transportation/

Bikes are a very important piece of the puzzle, but they’re not the only piece.

Paul
Guest
Paul

I’ve used Uber in a bunch of different cities, and they were all much better experiences than in “pro” taxis which tended to break the speed limit, run stop signs/lights and push through groups of pedestrians. NYC cabs are the worst offenders by far. Uber drivers have always been extremely law-abiding in my short experience with them. Maybe that’ll change once they get more experience, who knows?

Geoff
Guest
Geoff

This is a huge can of worms based of corporate greed, intentionally ignoring local laws, Insurance requirement violations, licensing violations and much more. UberX, UberXL and LYFY are nothing more then illegal unlicensed cabs. When these companies are actually issued cease and desist orders, they will close doors to their local office and continue business via the internet. Once in town they will not go away! Uber claims that they’re only a technology company, not a car service. Which leaves their drivers in a bad spot. Most don’t understand what they are doing is illegal as it’s presented to them in a way that it’s not. Then the driver ends up with a $2500-5000 fine and criminal charges to deal with.

Uber Black and Uber SUV on the other hand fall under different laws, but are for established private car companies. To use these services operators required to have commercial insurance, a business license, drug testing, dot medical exam, background checks and so on. Uber would do just fine sticking with these vehicles but their push for money brings a lot if unsuspecting people into uberX using their personal vehicles to make an extra few dollars. Watch facebook; you will be seeing a lot of ads pop up saying make $50k-70k extra per year. Ugh!

SteveG
Guest
SteveG

Many of the same issues arose in Seattle. They opted to regulate but legalize Lyft and Uber. Seems sensible to me:

http://www.engadget.com/2014/07/14/seattle-votes-to-legalize-ridesharing/

Maintaining the current system, which is basically a “taxi cartel” that mostly benefits medallion owners (vs. the actual drivers) and ignoring technology innovation seems short-sighted and reactionary. Other cities will end up with this new option to help more residents get off the car ownership treadmill, while Portland will be left behind.

IMO we should do what we did with Airbnb: proceed with caution, but proceed. As anyone living car-free knows, it’s great to have a full range of options. Also, having TNCs to augment the taxi supply will probably keep a lot more drunks off the road.