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Uber’s illegal Portland launch raises question: What if an Uber driver hits you?

Posted by on December 5th, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Riding Portland's urban highways-8

Uber inside?
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

If you get hit on a Portland street by a commercially operated vehicle, you don’t want it to be an UberX on its way to its next fare.

On the other hand, you’ll be better off than if you had been hit by one of many normal private cars.

As the ride-hailing mobile app unexpectedly lauched Friday night in defiance of a city where the possible penalties for operating an unlicensed taxi can include jail time (but are reportedly more likely to involve up to $2,250 in fines), it raised a side issue for other users of the city’s roads.

It’s one we discussed briefly in our September Q&A with Uber’s regional manager, but Friday’s development gives it fresh urgency.

Here’s the issue:

If you get hit by a legal taxi in Portland and the driver was at fault, any medical bills and other damages will be covered by a general liability insurance policy of at least $1 million.

That’s also the case for an Uber car that’s carrying a passenger.

But if there’s no passenger in the car, the car is in a legal gray area. It’s usually the driver’s personal vehicle and covered by their personal insurance. But if the car is en route to pick up a fare, it’s arguably being operated as a business — in which case the personal insurance policy typically doesn’t apply.

Earlier this year, Uber began to offer $50,000 of contingent personal injury coverage per victim (and $100,000 per collision) for drivers involved in collisions while the Uber app was active but who aren’t covered by their own insurance. As part of a deal that let it begin operating legally in Seattle, Uber agreed to boost such coverage in that city to $100,000 per individual and $200,000 per collision.

For personal drivers in Oregon, the legal minimum liability coverage is $25,000 per individual.

In an interview Friday night, personal injury attorney Charley Gee of Swanson, Thomas, Coon and Newton called Uber’s $50,000 coverage for drivers on their way to pick up fares “a huge issue.”

“$50,000 certainly doesn’t go far,” Gee said: “An ambulance ride, a night in the hospital and a few doctors.”

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In Gee’s opinion, “if Uber is going to be using these cars to make money, basically, they should be at a higher level of insurance.”

Portland attorney Charley Gee
often handles bike-related injury
cases.

Uber argues that it’s not a taxi service, only a digital platform that lets independent drivers connect with passengers, and that it’s providing insurance coverage voluntarily.

“Uber partner drivers are not driving taxis, do not wait in taxi load zones, pick individuals up off the street and there is no incentive or reason to circle or cruise for passengers,” Uber regional manager Brooke Steger wrote in an email Friday night.

Gee added that despite his concerns about Uber’s insurance coverage and the possible loss of traditional taxi driving as a ladder into the U.S. job market, he likes the concept of a company that makes it easier for him to get home from a bar safely.

There’s plausible evidence that Uber has reduced drunk driving somewhat in cities where it operates.

“I think maybe Uber’s probably the spearhead of a sharing economy that will work, and work well,” Gee said. “Hopefully it does.”

You can read more about Uber’s surprise illegal Portland launch and the city’s initial response at Willamette Week, the Mercury, The Oregonian and GeekWire, or read our twopart series from the fall for arguments for and against the company.

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101 Comments
  • John Liu
    John Liu December 5, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    Wouldn’t it be pretty easy for the city to summon Uber cars and ticket/jail them when they respond?

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  • Harald December 5, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Shouldn’t we also be talking about how Oregon’s 25000$ minimum insurance is a joke? Yet another way in which the cost of driving gets socialized.

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    • Charley Gee December 5, 2014 at 7:49 pm

      It’s absolutely insane that $25,000 is still the minimum amount of insurance required. Especially given the rate that medical costs have risen.

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  • Jeffrey December 5, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    So what’s the difference between getting hit by an Uber and getting hit by an underinsured normal driver? If it’s none, why should I care any more than I normally would?

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    • Christopher Sanderson December 6, 2014 at 9:15 am

      Agreed. I try not to spend time thinking about the possibility of getting hit by a car, but it’s hard not to sometimes. Uber or uninsured, I am getting squashed and hurt.

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    • davemess December 7, 2014 at 8:58 am

      And don’t people HAVE to be personally insured to be an Uber driver anyway?

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  • Peter W December 5, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    This is great news for Portland: considering that Uber just raised $1B* in funding, I hope the city can quickly cash in on more than their share of that through sting operations to catch these illegal Uberers.

    * http://www.fastcompany.com/3039435/uber-announces-whopping-1-billion-in-funding

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    • Chris Shaffer December 7, 2014 at 7:39 am

      Argh, my previous comment is blank? Here it is again.

      ****

      Sadly, that is another cost of business that Uber has externalized. The drivers take all of the risk and Uber takes none.

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  • Peter W December 5, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    Also, Michael, make sure not to write anything too critical of Uber.

    We all know what happens to journalists who do*.

    *: http://www.businessinsider.com/an-uber-exec-brought-up-the-idea-of-spying-on-journalists-2014-11

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  • Peter W December 5, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Oh and… There have been a bunch of reports about Uber’s misogynistic culture which Portlanders thinking about supporting the company should know about.

    “Uber counts on its users feeling safe – it’s even part of the company’s marketing. And people do still feel safe ordering a ride home from an app on their phone, despite occasional reports of crimes committed by drivers. Even I felt pretty safe booking an Uber as recently as last week, despite two disconcerting incidents this summer, one in which an Uber driver asked for my phone number after informing me how fantastic my tits are, and another in which a driver started heading for a different state than the one in which I reside.

    But after Buzzfeed’s report on Monday evening that one Uber executive looked up a female reporter’s ride history and threatened to dig up dirt on another, I will admit that, really, I don’t feel safe with Uber anymore, and not because I’m a journalist – because I’m a woman.”

    You should read the rest, here:

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/18/uber-woman-problem

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    • Alex Reed December 5, 2014 at 9:16 pm

      I would be happier if Lyft entered the market here. Not as many reports of bad behavior there, and we need competition in order to avoid a repeat of the overpriced, horrible service that we currently receive from Portland’s taxi cartel.

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    • Tyler Hurst December 5, 2014 at 10:43 pm

      I figured everyone knew the company was run by ***name-calling moderated***.

      Can’t fathom how people are okay with using a service like that.

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      • Alex Reed December 6, 2014 at 2:30 pm

        Have you heard about the overt racism, bad labor practices, and overpriced bad service of Portland’s taxi industry? Not sure that’s any better.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu December 5, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    I like Radio Cab a lot. Not so much the others.

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    • John Lascurettes December 6, 2014 at 1:26 am

      Radio Cab is a solid company. No complaints about the service I’ve received from them. They’re also the only drivers I see that don’t consistently park wide into the bike lane at the taxi stand at SW Oak on Broadway.

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    • Alex Reed December 6, 2014 at 7:01 am

      Radio can has stood me up on a trip to the airport. Not fun. I just take TriMet now despite their absurd slowness, or get rides from friends & family.

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    • Pete December 6, 2014 at 5:25 pm

      Agreed, it’s up there on my list of fave Jerry Joseph tunes… 😉

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  • bjorn December 5, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    I was hit by a car in 1992. My hospital bills were over 50k just for the first week. 25k is nothing, all drivers should be required to carry far more injury coverage.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) December 6, 2014 at 11:13 am

      I’m not disagreeing, but that’s gotta be traded off against the increase in uninsured drivers (mentioned by J_R below) when insurance gets more expensive, no?

      I think this is a key part of Gee’s argument that commercial companies should have to offer better liability insurance per vehicle than an individual does: a business usually has more money at stake and is less likely to ignore the law than a poor person is.

      One more reason why we need good low-car transpo, especially for poorer folks: it improves our ability to raise insurance requirements, because if biking & transit are viable, fewer folks will choose to drive uninsured.

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      • Joseph E December 6, 2014 at 1:13 pm

        There is a very small difference in monthly cost between $25,000 and $100,000 insurance. Very, very few people who are currently insured would stop carrying insurance if the requirement were changed.

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        • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
          Michael Andersen (News Editor) December 6, 2014 at 1:19 pm

          I didn’t know this – thanks. Got specific numbers?

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        • Pete December 7, 2014 at 8:14 am

          The unfortunate reality is that it’s not these costs that make or break the decisions for people, it’s more their personal moral compasses; they’re either going to obey the law or they’re not. Even though we have technologies to enforce compliance, the costs to implement them are seen as too high whereas insurance companies get bailed out by taxpayers whenever they gamble on risk and lose – for amounts of money that are inconceivably high.

          I carry minimums on all of my policies but it’s not to save money; I pay extra for umbrella coverage instead that’s a better bang for the buck.

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      • Gary December 8, 2014 at 4:35 pm

        “A business is less likely to ignore the law” he says, not in jest, in regard to an article about a company ignoring the law.

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  • kittens December 6, 2014 at 5:21 am

    the “sharing economy”. Orwell would be proud.

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  • Grandpa December 6, 2014 at 6:58 am

    An article in the NY Times this AM investigates this very issue. It includes AirBNB as well. It basically says that personal insurance will not cover damages incurred during commercial enterprises. Could we be witnessing a wind rustling through a house of cards?

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    • Alex Reed December 6, 2014 at 8:30 am

      Probably not. We could be witnessing the prelude to local gov’t actually doing it’s job and requiring providers of these services to buy reasonable commercial insurance, though.

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  • JDavis December 6, 2014 at 8:49 am

    The minimum insurance is a joke. It hasn’t been updated for inflation since the 80s.

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  • J_R December 6, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Not only are the insurance limits way too low, the number of uninsured motorists is estimated to be more than 12 percent. That’s one in eight!

    I personally know three motorists and one cyclist who have been hit by uninsured motorists. The worst incident resulted in permanent mobility issues. The uninsured woman who hit her was driving a nicer car, but claimed she couldn’t afford insurance.

    The law-abiding, insurance-paying, citizens end up paying more than the scofflaws.

    Providing proof of insurance once every two years in connection with license renewal is obviously not adequate.

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    • Adam H. December 8, 2014 at 9:41 am

      If only the measure allowing people to get drivers licenses without providing proof of citizenship passed…

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    • GlowBoy December 9, 2014 at 1:33 pm

      “the number of uninsured motorists is estimated to be more than 12 percent. That’s one in eight!”

      Only 12%? Maybe it’s changed, but the estimates I’ve seen in the past were 20-25%. Not only are at too many motorists uninsured (Oregon law is pretty toothless in enforcing mandatory insurance or even licensing), but they tend to be some of the least responsible drivers, causing far more than their share of collisions.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if half of collisions were caused by UIMs. This is anecdotal, but of the numerous crashes I’ve been witness or party to over the years, the at-fault motorist was uninsured more than half the time.

      So yeah, I don’t think Uber’s presence changes the fact that you already have a high probability of being hit by a driver unprepared to take financial responsibility for their mistakes. Having UIM insurance is a really, really good thing.

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  • Christopher Sanderson December 6, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Some of the most memorable times of getting around Portland have been waiting for a taxi for an hour in the middle of downtown Milwaukee (after the 75 bus quit operating) and up at the airport when the Max was not running. On my list of some of the most sucky things in transportation is flying from Miami, and arriving at PDX at 12:30 am, and having to wait for a cab for an hour. The taxi service here in Portland is awful (my thoughts on Radio Cab… meh…), and I welcome Uber’s entry into the market. I think the competition will improve our dinosaur-esque taxi service here in Portland.

    By the way, I had the chance to use Uber in San Francisco back in October, and found the service to be timely, professional, and a good price. The driver showed up 5-minutes after my friend requested the ride on the app. The driver offered us a choice of a stick of gum or a breath mint after we got in the car. Then he asked us what kind of music we wanted to listen to. After that, he asked us to put on our seat belts before moving the car. He took the most efficient route to our destination, and did not drive like a bat out of hell. The driver was energetic and personable, yet courteous. I’ve never had an experience like this in a taxi in Chicago, San Francisco, or Portland.

    I like the idea that one can rate a driver like what they do with Uber. Imagine if we could rate our taxi drivers here. I think some sense of accountability with drivers would improve service here. Instead, we are left with an system of taxi cab companies that rests its laurels on an out-of-date city regulatory system. I say bring it Uber!

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    • Champs December 6, 2014 at 12:23 pm

      Imagine if everybody with a pilot’s license and a Cessna could make their open seats available to people traveling between Hillsboro and Sandy, downtown Vancouver, McMinnville, or any other municipal airport in the region. The commute would be fast and open the roads.

      You can rationalize that as a public good, but that does not make it a smart idea.

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      • Christopher Sanderson December 6, 2014 at 12:51 pm

        Sorry Champs, I think Uber is a smart idea. I think there can be some refinements to insurance coverage, and that would be an easy one to negotiate with Uber. I think it’s a dumb idea when city governments are in bed with aging taxi companies, and protecting them from competition.

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      • Scott H December 6, 2014 at 1:01 pm

        That sounds like a great idea.

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      • Alex December 6, 2014 at 1:15 pm

        There’s no doubt you take a risk anytime you step in an automobile.

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    • Alex December 6, 2014 at 1:24 pm

      Chris – Same story here. Used Uber is SF a few months ago, and loved it. Clean cars, good drivers. Always was picked up within 3-4 minutes of request. Not having to deal with the payment and tip after your ride, that is the big plus with Uber for me.

      Then we get back to portland. MAX is not running, no taxis ready to go. Wait 15 min for one to show up. Driver cannot understand our address, so we had to do turn by turn gesturing. We get to our house, and he motions that his credit card reader is broken. So then we had to drive to a bank, get cash and drive back, at our expense. The ride ended up costing something like $50 – half the cost of our plane ticket!!! Now we’ve had some good experiences with cabs here in portland, but none of them have been as effortless as Uber. After using a service like Uber, you can see why people like using it.

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  • Nick Skaggs December 6, 2014 at 10:29 am

    This is a bit of a tangent, but…

    I just found out about Uber beginning operations in Portland this morning. I was shocked. Uber’s decision seems to me to be both illegal and disrespectful of our community and laws.

    Our city said, “No Uber,” and Uber said, “Oh well, I’m doing it anyway!”

    It seems so flagrantly illegal and like a slap in the face to our governance. If Uber can’t respect our city’s wishes, (or at least wait for them to shift in Uber’s favor) how can we expect any of their future behavior to be responsible or professional?

    I’m sick of companies and corporations violating public law and getting away with it. This is just one more step in the Corporations>Government march we’ve all been seeing for so long.

    Or not. I guess I’m just spitballing.

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    • Christopher Sanderson December 6, 2014 at 12:45 pm

      Sounds to me like the city has stalled and stalled and stalled on negotiating their service here. Let’s say you have an enterprising idea to save people money, time, provide excellent customer service, jobs, and stimulate competition to bring about all-around better service for all, and a city government keeps telling tells you “no,’ and delays decisions for over a year. Might you get frustrated?

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      • Concordia Cyclist December 6, 2014 at 1:45 pm

        Am I getting it right that you are OK with breaking laws due to “frustration”? Pretty sure that’s the excuse of many a car driver who have endangered bike riders. Civil disobedience is one thing, but outright ignoring the will and laws of the community is another. They have plenty of money to make political change if they want to, but its clear they refuse to take the time required to do so. The Uber gang come off as exceedingly arrogant and this is Exhibit A in Portland.

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        • spare_wheel December 6, 2014 at 2:05 pm

          I’m absolutely fine with breaking laws that block a useful service and have little negative impact on the public. I’m also fine with breaking laws that protect corrupt oligopolies, such as, the taxi cartel.

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          • Concordia Cyclist December 6, 2014 at 4:17 pm

            Oligopolie? Taxi cartel? Seriously? Bluster like that seriously damages what credible argument there may be for Uber. Unregulated industries (as far as I can tell) do little to harm the community at large and I’m not sure why this would be an exception?

            Maybe you could elaborate on how such risk would be mitigated in this case. My view is that these guys want to Wal-Mart the taxi business (see dan’s link below) and while you may personally benefit from the service, the community does not. It’s that out sized sense of self-interest that companies like this rely upon. This will only further erode the wages of middle class service industry workers. Where does it stop?

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            • Concordia Cyclist December 6, 2014 at 4:18 pm

              oops – “…do little but harm…” not “to”

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            • Alex Reed December 7, 2014 at 7:05 am

              To mitigate risk of driver abuse by Silicon Valley companies:
              1) Competition between at least 3 Uber-like entities would probably mostly fix this on its own. My friend drives for Uber in the DC area, and he keeps track of compensation levels and is considering changing to Lyft because of them. At a macro scale, a company can’t make money if it’s competitors steal all it’s drivers.
              2) Regulation. Need regulation for a number of things (insurance, etc.) If wages for drivers too low, mandate that they be at least $X per mile and index to a gas price/general inflation formula. Problem solved.

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              • John Lascurettes December 8, 2014 at 12:19 am

                And based on Uber’s track record so far, you think they’d heed any regulation at this point?

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              • Alex Reed December 8, 2014 at 8:51 am

                Not sure. I’d hope that they’d heed regulation that is reasonably aimed at the public welfare (e.g. compensation minimums, disabled access, insurance, etc.). This as opposed to the current anti-competitive cap on # of cars, which seems solely aimed at welfare of current industry owners (not current drivers! It probably makes their bargaining position w/ owners weaker!) I’d also hope that the City has enough tools in its legal box to force compliance. I am not an expert on any of the above so I’d welcome actual information.

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            • spare_wheel December 7, 2014 at 9:20 am

              i’ve never used uber and i’m not a fan of uber’s management. uber is also not the only operator: lyft and gett are alternatives in other cities.

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          • Alex Reed December 7, 2014 at 6:57 am

            Cartel. Def’n (first thing that comes up on the Googles):
            an association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting supply.

            Portland’s taxi industry has a lock on all licenses for taxiing in Portland. Want to start a mom-and-pop taxi company? Too bad. It took a throw-down political fight with union support for Union Cab to get 50 licenses. Per-mile prices are approximately twice what they are in other cities, many of which have 3x+ the number of cabs per 1000 residents (on my phone; google “sightline taxi” to get article with this data). If that’s not an industry association to maintain prices at a high level and restrict supply, I don’t know what is.

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            • Alex Reed December 7, 2014 at 7:11 am

              I understand why you were skeptical though. The context in which one hears “cartel” most frequently is “the Colombian drug cartel” but the word actually is about the cartel’s power to set high prices and not be competed down, not its illegal and violent activities.

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            • Chris I December 7, 2014 at 10:25 am

              And don’t forget regulatory capture. The only reason we are having this debate if Portland didn’t have these laws banning services like Uber.

              City leader’s: if you want to show us that you haven’t been bought by the cab cartel? Do what Seattle did: pass regulations requiring insurance coverage minimums, and let the free market do the rest.

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              • Alex Reed December 7, 2014 at 8:34 pm

                You’re right. The regulatory capture is really sickening, and rises to the level of “looks like corruption” to me.

                Say that “we,” the City Council, need to make a decision about ridesharing. What do we do about it? Ask the Private For-Hire Board of Review, which is 50% current for-hire transpo industry, 36% gov’t, 7% disability advocates, and 7% public at large, for a recommendation. What do you think a group that’s made up of 50% beneficiaries of the current prohibitions on competition is going to do? They’re going to say ride-sharing would be super horrible for Portland, duh!

                As I’ve said before, it’s like getting dietary policy recommendations by asking a Board of two-year-olds “Broccoli or Chocolate for dinner?”

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          • Adam H. December 8, 2014 at 9:46 am

            So you’d be okay if Exxon started drilling for oil in your backyard without your permission?

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        • davemess December 7, 2014 at 5:59 pm

          I really need to take this to heart, and just start pumping my own gas!!!

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        • James Sherbondy December 8, 2014 at 5:37 pm

          Stand near a 4 way stop on a busy bike boulevard and watch all the “law breaking” that happens due to frustration of not having sensible laws (Idaho Stop) on the books and then get back to me. Sometimes it takes people, even D-bags like Uber, to crack a few eggs, to shine a light on things that need changing.

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      • Adam H. December 8, 2014 at 9:44 am

        Frustration is not an excuse for breaking the law.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu December 6, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    It must not be “easy” to negotiate insurance coverage with Uber, since this has been a big issue from the beginning – Portland isn’t the first city who has raised the issue – and they still don’t provide insurance equivalent to the $1MM that taxis are required to have.

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    • Joseph E December 6, 2014 at 1:18 pm

      The city doesn’t need to “negotiate” this point with Uber. The commissioners can vote to allow care-sharing companies like Uber to operate, with the requirement of $1 million dollar insurance etc. etc., and then put in a $10 million dollar fine per day, per violation.
      The problem is that the existing $1500 fines against Uber are nearly meaningless to a $40 billion dollar corporation, and the city hasn’t make a legal way for Uber or Lyft to operate, at any cost. Combine that with Uber’s super-aggresive, macho, corporate culture, and you get where we are today.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu December 6, 2014 at 6:31 pm

        Depends if Uber is paying the fines on the drivers. The drivers most certainly cannot ignore $1500.

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        • Scott H December 7, 2014 at 9:39 pm

          Uber has so far paid the fines and legal fees of drivers in other states according to Willamette Week.

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      • Chris Shaffer December 7, 2014 at 7:45 am

        Another case where drivers take all the risk and Uber none. Uber’s entire business model is based on externalizing costs.

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        • Spiffy December 8, 2014 at 3:14 pm

          I thought that most taxi drivers were independent contractors who rented the cab from the cab company… they the cab companies already externalize the costs… drivers pay to drive…

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  • dan December 6, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Slate had an eye opening article in October on how little Uber drivers actually make. They push all the costs to the drivers and passengers, skimming the profit for themselves…not a living wage for the drivers:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2014/10/uber_driver_salary_the_ride_sharing_company_says_its_drivers_make_great.html

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    • spare_wheel December 7, 2014 at 9:26 am

      some context:

      http://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/taxi-drivers-and-chauffeurs.htm

      The median annual wage for taxi drivers and chauffeurs was $22,820 in May 2012. The median wage is the point at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,050, and the top 10 percent earned more than $37,200.

      15 now!

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      • dan December 7, 2014 at 2:48 pm

        Yes, but Uber themselves claim UberX drivers in NYC make $90k/year, and $74k/year in San Francisco: http://blog.uber.com/uberimpact

        I see them as a dishonest megacorp that’s trying to weasel out of providing proper insurance coverage for their drivers…kind of like the “perma-temp” thing that Microsoft and Intel have gotten burned by over the years: “These people are our employees, but we’re going to use a thin legal fiction to avoid taking legal / financial responsibility for their actions.” I understand that some people see cheap rides as outweighing that — perhaps you’re one — that’s fine, but I don’t see things that way.

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  • Reza December 6, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Anytime someone here, or on Reddit, or on other comment boards, trashes Uber, ask yourself why? What do they have to gain from maintaining the abysmal level of service that we “enjoy” from our current taxi system? Are they a cab driver, or are they good friends with one?

    Because nobody can take an objective view of the existing situation and decide that we don’t need any reform, or that the number of cabs we have in Portland is perfectly adequate. Certainly nobody who has ever tried to get a taxi late at night and was subject to endless waits or cabs that never showed up.

    We surely see enough cries of “Uber shill!” anytime somebody dares to mention a positive experience they had with Uber in another city.

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    • kittens December 6, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      Uber has made it known it will stop at nothing to get its way. It is a multibillion dollar company which deceives, bullies and has a PR machine like few others. After the dust settles from their IPO I am sure it will be seen for what it is: a media created sham.

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    • dan December 6, 2014 at 7:30 pm

      Well, I could see an argument for increasing the number of medallions and giving some to Uber — possibly virtual medallions so they don’t have to physically exchange them. But in return, I think Uber should provide their drivers the same insurance coverage that cab drivers have. Uber really puts the screws to their drivers, which means that I won’t use it, but then Wal-Mart and McDonalds do the same thing, and we haven’t banned them from the city.

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    • Chris Shaffer December 7, 2014 at 7:46 am

      Acknowledging that the taxi system needs reform is NOT the same as endorsing Uber. Criticizing Uber is NOT the same as refusing to acknowledge that the taxi system needs reform.

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      • Alex Reed December 7, 2014 at 8:01 am

        That is certainly true. And Uber has tons of problems, and left to their own devices without any regulation, they would probably end up worse than the taxis to drivers (which is saying something; the taxi companies were not nice to drivers) and possibly over-charge passengers just as much.

        BUT Uber/Lyft are the only way change has come to the taxi industry. The taxi industry was ossified for decades in almost every American city, with varying levels of under-supply and over-pricing (Portland was among the worst). More or less no American cities changed their supply to meet demand until Uber/Lyft entered their markets. Chris, if you support changes to the taxi industry but oppose Uber, what avenue do you think those changes could feasibly occur through if not through Uber/Lyft?

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    • Adam H. December 8, 2014 at 9:53 am

      You’re presenting a false dichotomy. I can think the current taxi laws are horrible while simultaneously disliking Uber’s business practices.

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    • Reza December 9, 2014 at 11:19 am

      All I see are people spew talking points without actually coming up with solutions. Companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar provide a much better user experience than taxis at a (usually) cheaper price. Just because someone thinks the CEO is a scumbag doesn’t mean that they don’t belong here.

      And I’m kind of surprised that someone like you, Adam, from Chicago can be so vehemently against these services. I guess you never used them over there?

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  • kittens December 6, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    I find it ironic that the same demographic (gentrifying yuppies) people who go to great lengths to buy local and organic are so willing to enrich a giant out of state company like Uber. Just because it’s an app doesn’t mean it is harmless or progressive.

    There are a few people who will be made billionaires by this rough trade and they will not be Portlanders. That’s for sure.

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    • Nick Skaggs December 6, 2014 at 7:02 pm

      There was an “I, anonymous” posted in the Portland Mercury last month that addressed this very point-

      http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/i-anonymous/Content?oid=14313387

      I’m not saying I think their business model is perfect, or even good. It sounds like their services leave a lot to be desires, and I’ve read a ton of complaints about drivers not showing up, etc.

      But there you go, anyway. Also, I like bikes.

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    • Christopher Sanderson December 7, 2014 at 8:59 am

      Aren’t we all enriching giant out-of-state companies (and one or two in-state) by purchasing the computers that we are typing on here?

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      • dan December 7, 2014 at 2:49 pm

        Pshaw, who “purchases a computer”? Build your own! The most expensive thing in mine is the CPU…so I’m keeping it local with Intel products.

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        • Adam H. December 8, 2014 at 9:56 am

          The parts for your computer are all likely made by Silicon Valley corporations in China or Taiwan, though.

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        • Spiffy December 8, 2014 at 4:27 pm

          Intel doesn’t make anything in Portland…

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    • spare_wheel December 7, 2014 at 9:36 am

      i’d personally choose gett or lyft over uber.

      and the amazing thing to me is the ire projected at uber over their wages ($44K per year in the slate example) while the abysmal median wages of taxi drivers hardly merit even a single chirp.

      15 now!

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    • Chris I December 7, 2014 at 10:27 am

      “Gentrifying yuppies”

      When did you move to Portland?

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    • Adam H. December 8, 2014 at 9:57 am

      People still use the term “yuppies”?

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  • John Liu
    John Liu December 7, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    More like average $12/hour actual earnings, after expenses, is what I’ve read. Which is around $25K per year if working full time.

    Average earnings for Portland taxi drivers is supposedly $33K but that probably includes part time drivers too.

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    • spare_wheel December 7, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      slate came up with that number by deducting expenses that many taxi drivers also pay.

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  • Dwaine Dibbly December 7, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    I am not a lawyer, but…. If you get hit by an illegal Uber driver, ask your lawyer about making sure that your lawsuit includes a negligence claim against the driver, their passenger (if there is one), and the company itself. Go after everyone but especially Uber since that’s where the deep pockets are.

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  • Scott H December 7, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    Didn’t Uber announce that rides are covered by 1 million insurance policies.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu December 7, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    The insurance situation is as described in the BP article.

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  • Lukas December 8, 2014 at 8:42 am

    Why isn’t the city charging the EXECUTIVES of Uber with conspiracy to commit criminal espionage and putting them in jail for wilfully aiding the violation of the law?

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    • J_R December 8, 2014 at 8:57 am

      For the same reason Wall Street executives have not been jailed for destroying the global economy – campaign “contributions.”

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  • Adam H. December 8, 2014 at 9:30 am

    “Uber argues that it’s not a taxi service, only a digital platform that lets independent drivers connect with passengers”

    This sums up everything that is wrong with the so-called “sharing economy” companies. The refuse to take responsibility.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu December 8, 2014 at 10:57 am

    To be clear, I am not opposed to Uber, Lyft, or other “Transportation Network Company” (TNC) as they call themselves, eventually operating in Portland. I like the convenience of the smartphone app, and the lower fares. But I want to see two main things.

    First, the TNCs and their drivers should have to meet the same standards that we demand from taxi companies and their drivers.

    For example:
    – taxi drivers are required to hold transportation driver permits, meaning they cannot have criminal records, many traffic tickets, multiple traffic accidents, a previous drivers’ license suspension, too little driving experience, etc. Uber says they screen drivers, but it is all at their discretion – they can change their policies at any time, or not follow them.
    – Taxis are required to have security cameras, be non-smoking, carry first aid and fire suppression equipment, have working emissions controls, etc and 20% of the taxi fleet must be wheelchair accessible. Uber drivers merely have to have a four-door vehicle newer than 2005.
    – Taxi companies must carry $1MM insurance that is in effect at all times, whether the taxi is responding to a call or carrying a passenger or not. Uber provides insurance only when the driver is actually responding to a Uber request or carrying a passenger, the rest of the time, anyone injured can only access the driver’s personal insurance which may be as little as $25K and is likely not even valid, since private auto insurance is void if you are driving commercially.
    – Taxi companies are required to respond to calls from anywhere in the city, 24/7, for any ride. Uber drivers are free to ignore requests from our poorer neighborhoods, or rides that they deem too short to bother with, and basically to serve only lucrative customers with smartphones in desirable areas.
    – There are other requirements that I would like to see taxi companies meet, such as continuous video recording to provide evidence if the driver is unsafe. The city can impose those on taxi companies, they should be able to impose those on a TNC as well.

    Second, the TNCs should have to pay their drivers at least as well as taxi drivers are paid.

    I realize taxi drivers don’t make a lot of money, but a TNC driver should make at least that small amount. Why do I care?
    – TNC companies will make a ton of money – there is a reason why investors are valuing Uber at $40BN – and right now Uber is set up to funnel the vast majority of earnings to billionaires in their management and shareholders, all outside of Portland.
    – Very little of those earnings will stay in our local economy. When Uber has driven most of our taxi companies out of business, and then floods the market with thousands of part-time Uber drivers scraping to make even minimum wage, we will wonder why we so willingly allowed Silicon Valley and Wall Street destroy a local industry and funnel all its former revenue to a few ultra wealthy people nowhere near our city.
    – Basically, Uber is trying to do the same thing to the local economy in the taxi industry, as Walmart is trying to do to the local retail economy. In return for lower prices, they collapse our local businesses and suck the profits to San Francisco CA instead of Benonville AR.

    I don’t work for any taxi company. I’m just a Portland resident who values sustainable local jobs that keep as much of our money right here in our own local economy, and also feels that our city’s elected officials should be able to regulate the businesses that operate here – no company, no matter how rich or aggressive, should be above our laws.

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    • Alex Reed December 8, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      Great! I support those two sets of regulations as well.

      Are you OK with eliminating the cap on the # of for-hire/TNC vehicles? Because that is what’s necessary in order to get the things you want changed in the current state of affairs: the convenience of enough vehicles available at peak times and the lower fares.

      Honestly, I would be mostly fine with the City excluding TNC’s in perpetuity, as long as it did the following:
      – eliminated the cap on the # of vehicles in our current taxi system
      – allowed taxi companies to compete on price (with regulations to ensure complete price transparency)
      – gave some uniform mechanism for riders to report how good their service was with a given driver/taxi company, with those reports easily visible to future customers. E.g. 1-to-5 star reviews with an average company satisfaction and driver satisfaction reported to every one who books a ride.
      -changed the regulatory body (Private For-Hire Board of Review) to be not dominated by the industry. It should be more like 50% public, 14% industry than the way it is now (50% industry, 14% public).

      I would also like the City to improve its driver take-home pay from what it is now but I don’t have any specific policy recommendations on that.

      Those changes would create true competition between the taxi companies, both for riders, and for good drivers. Currently, a company and, to a lesser extent, its drivers, can give horrible service and still get fares because there just aren’t enough cabs in Portland for our population. The drivers don’t have much recourse when treated badly – there are only a few companies they can drive at, and starting their own company isn’t allowed. And, price competition is prohibited.

      No reforms have been made on the regulatory side for decades (except for Union Cab, which was only an on-the-edges improvement, not a wholesale re-do). Uber is forcing change. Even though I don’t really like Uber, I’m glad they’re forcing something to happen. Let’s shape what does happen so it’s good for our city, its cab riders, and its cab drivers.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu December 8, 2014 at 4:50 pm

        Good questions, Alex. I am not sure how I’d change the taxi regulations. Removing or greatly increasing the number of medallions makes some sense to me. Price competition and consumer rating does as well.

        Honestly, I admire a lot of the technological improvements Uber has created. The taxi industry should adopt them. I don’t like the Uber attitude that they get to ignore the consumer protections that the city has decided are important, like insurance, driver screening, and the universal service obligation. I also don’t like the bulk of profits being siphoned out of our city, and Uber’s misleading claims about how much money their drivers make.

        At the end of the day, I want taxi and TNC drivers to make a livable income. I don’t want to be a part of exploiting drivers, massively enriching venture capitalists, and destroying yet another occupation that should be an honest living, just to save a couple bucks on a taxi ride. I don’t shop at Wal-Mart for these reasons and I don’t see why gutting a local taxi industry and putting its drivers out of work is better than destroying local retailers and putting their employees out of work.

        That said, the local taxi companies had better be working on Uber like apps and raising their game.

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        • Alex Reed December 8, 2014 at 5:04 pm

          FYI, currently, taxi company drivers (“independent contractors”) make under minimum wage ($6.22 per hour, versus $9.10). https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/511916

          I don’t think the comparison of our taxi companies vs. Uber is analogous to mom and pop shops vs. WalMart. I think it’s more analogous to exploitative 19th-century American factory vs. exploitative 21st-century overseas factory.

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          • John Liu
            John Liu December 8, 2014 at 6:07 pm

            No question if you want to be a taxi driver in Portland, you want to drive for Radio Cab. As an employee owned co-op, they just seem to have it figured out. As far as I can tell from taking to every cab driver I ride with.
            And based on the city’s 2012 report which said those drivers make 2x what other cab drivers do, work tolerable hours, don’t pay exorbitant fees to the company, etc.

            The limited number of medallions here (I know that isn’t the right term for Portland, but I’m so used to the term) seems to be hurting some of the drivers and the smaller taxi companies.

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    • spare_wheel December 8, 2014 at 3:52 pm

      I don’t disagree with your two points either but I also think Ubers corporate practices are taking a toll. For example, Gett/gettaxi has been challenging uber precisely by promoting fairer pay:

      http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/10/15/gett_challenges_uber_says_it_will_pay_drivers_double_what_uber_lyft_offer.html

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  • Adam H. December 8, 2014 at 4:06 pm
  • Granpa December 9, 2014 at 7:40 am

    A NY Times editorial this morning (12-9-14) opines about the data collection that Uber harvests, and the self serving manner in which they use that data.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/08/opinion/we-cant-trust-uber.html?ref=opinion&_r=0

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  • Jen December 10, 2014 at 6:34 am

    What concerns me is I keep hearing that Uber drivers aren’t carrying enough insurance in case of an accident, yet they have to at least be carrying the minimum dictated by the state. If this is really the issue you have with Uber, shouldn’t you be fighting to change the minimum requirements?

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