Portland officials are moving forward with a plan to regulate app-based ride-share services such as Uber, which began operating in the city in October.

Their goal is to have a draft amendment to city regulations ready by February that sets proposed rules for licensing, fees and conduct of ride-share services, also known as transportation network companies. The amendment would be subject to City Council approval.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said there are two key reasons city leaders want to regulate such services: passenger safety and leveling the playing field with taxi and town-car services that have to follow strict rules.

City officials received a complaint from a resident who said a driver claiming to be with Uber tried to pick him up outside a bar and then became belligerent when he refused the offer, Grondin said. In addition, numerous taxi drivers have contacted the city to complain about the unfairness of Uber drivers not having to follow the same set of rules.

Existing city code does not address ride-share services at all, she said, because it was written before the mobile technology that enables them was invented. As a result, city officials have no way to address complaints against such services.

“We don’t have anything in place that we can hold Uber to,” Grondin said.


Uber Inc. spokeswoman Kaitlin Durkosh said via email that the San Francisco-based company welcomes “sensible regulations” and is willing to work with city officials to develop them.

“Given ride-sharing is a new and innovative option in the transportation ecosystem, we’re eager to have a seat at the table during future discussions,” Durkosh said.

Ride-share services allow customers to access a network of drivers via a mobile-device app that alerts the closest available driver to pick them up.

Uber has argued that since all it does is produce and maintain the software, it is not a transportation company and should not be regulated as such.

However, officials in cities and states across the U.S. have implemented new rules specifically for Uber and its competitors such as Lyft and Sidecar.

The city issued a report prior to this past Wednesday’s meeting of the City Council’s Transportation, Sustainability & Energy Committee that included an overview of the issue written by Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta, copies of complaint letters from taxi and town-car services in Portland, and bills and ordinances passed in other states and cities to regulate businesses such as Uber.


The report also included an email from Portland resident Gordon Smith, who wrote that he had called a taxi one night to pick him and his girlfriend up outside Gritty’s Portland Brew Pub in the Old Port, and before the cab arrived a driver in an unmarked vehicle asked if he needed a ride.

When Smith told the driver he already had called a cab, the driver tried to persuade them to get in anyway, he wrote.

“He informed me that he was with Uber taxi, and that they were taking over the cab business for the city of Portland,” Smith wrote. “When we refused to get in, he got belligerent.”

Another emailed complaint included in the report was from Gregg Isherwood, president of Custom Coach and Limousine in Gorham.

Isherwood wrote that he was “not impressed” with the lack of action by the city to regulate Uber as it does other private transportation services.

“Their business model in Portland is (they) hire private contractors to use their private under insured (sic), improperly registered, and possibly unsafe vehicles, to directly compete with the highly regulated taxi and livery industry,” he wrote.


Uber has faced such criticisms in many cities, but the company insists in its promotional documents that all drivers must undergo a rigorous criminal background check and have commercial liability coverage for up to $1 million in damages.

Among the example laws, ordinances and contracts submitted to transportation committee members were regulations requiring ride-share services to maintain and allow access to up-to-date records of all drivers; prohibit drivers with prior convictions such as an OUI or prostitution; conduct annual safety inspections of all vehicles, and pay annual licensing fees to the city or state.

Another common restriction was to prohibit ride-share services from picking up or dropping off passengers at airports.

Grondin said that without any rules governing their conduct, Uber drivers have been free to pick up and drop off passengers at the Portland International Jetport despite a city-imposed cap on how many taxicabs can operate at the airport, chosen via a lottery system.

She said Uber drivers avoid the taxi pickup line and instead wait in the cellphone parking lot to pick up passengers at the airport, conduct that has generated complaints from conventional taxi drivers.

Uber has encountered resistance from government officials and the taxi industry in many of the places where it operates.


It has been issued fines and cease-and-desist orders from some municipal governments, but in most of those cases it has been able to negotiate subsequent agreements with local officials. However, the city of Portland, Oregon, sued the company this month, forcing it to shut down at least temporarily.

In July, London taxi drivers staged a protest against Uber in which they parked their black cabs in the middle of major streets for hours, disrupting traffic. In Boston, Uber has posted a list of precautions with its app to remind potential customers about safety precautions in response to assaults in that city linked to the ride-share service.

But Grondin said Portland officials welcome the service, and that they just want to make sure it operates safely and fairly.

“Nobody is saying we don’t want Uber,” she said. “They’re saying we want to level the playing field for everybody.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.