Uber Time? | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Uber Time?

Not if local cab drivers get their way...

When you want to rent out your house, Airbnb is often the go-to.

If you want to rent out your car to give people rides, options include Uber and Lyft—that is, unless you're in Central Oregon.

City officials from both Bend and Redmond have begun gathering information that could pave the way for Uber Technologies Inc. to enter Central Oregon. Operating in 200 U.S. markets and 500 cities worldwide, the San Francisco-based company's app allows customers to submit a trip request on their smart phones. That request is sent to an Uber driver nearest the customer, often resulting in quicker service than cabs provide. Fares are automatically calculated, charged to the customer's credit card, and the payment transferred to the drivers who use their own personal cars.

Cab drivers worldwide have been less than thrilled with the shift to the car-sharing model, staging protests from London to Berlin. Closer to home, cities including Eugene have banned Uber because of the threat to local cab companies.

At a recent Bend meeting, local cab drivers labeled Uber drivers as "amateur" – lacking experience and training. Others were critical of the use of personal cars and the lack of insurance coverage, background and safety checks, and the overall competition that an outside company would bring to Bend.

Owners and drivers from seven cab companies, along with Uber representatives, met with officials at Bend City Hall last week.

"I don't want them here, period," said Matt Cave of Coiled Cabs of Bend. "We already have a Wal-Mart, and this is the Wal-Mart of taxis." Randy Mahaney, who operates Taxis of Bend with his wife, Hillary, says he's concerned city officials will bend the rules with backroom deals to find a way to allow Uber to operate in Central Oregon. "I don't want to see closed doors where our city officials that are representing us go in with them and ask 'How can we make this work' without us there." Mahaney and other Bend cabbies want the company to play by the same rules required of other cab companies operating here.

Hillary Mahaney believes that if Uber is allowed to operate in Bend, it will mean less business for local cab companies and ultimately less money staying in the local economy. "Uber doesn't bring any money into the community. They only suck it out," she contends.

Uber's Public Affairs Manager Jon Isaacs attended the city meeting last week. "We're not asking for any rules that wouldn't apply to everyone," Isaacs said. "We believe in a level playing field for everyone." Isaacs pointed to the process in Portland as an example. There was uncertainty at first, Isaacs said, but when Portland de-regulated and modernized its rules to meet today's transportation-for-hire standards—as Bend and Redmond officials admit will have to be done— everyone came out a winner. "In the last year and a half of operation, the city of Portland just released an audit on the private-for-hire industry that shows they have grown the whole industry. There are more taxi companies operating in Portland now than prior to the modernization of their rules. Taxi companies have seen a slight uptick in trips per week since they modernized their rules."

Cabbies are also concerned about insurance coverage requirements. Bend cab owners told officials that they are required to maintain about $2 million of coverage per cab, while Oregon Uber General Manager Bryce Bennett said his company maintains $1 million in coverage. Sharilyn Todd of Bend Town Cars says that the difference creates an uneven playing field. "We can't go down below $1.5 or $2 million dollars because we're regulated by the state. It would be awesome to only have to pay for $1 million coverage. We'd save a lot of money, but we don't have a choice." Aaron Schmidt, owner of Coiled Cabs said, "We do want things to be fair. We want them to have to operate just the same as everyone else does here. The insurance costs are insane."

Uber's Bennett says there are many misconceptions about his company. He told Bend and Redmond officials that Uber requires an extensive background check of drivers. "We do a criminal background check against the national sex offender registry. We do a court record check both nationally and in the counties they've lived in, and we do that through a social security trace where they have lived in the last seven years." Bennett says Uber also requires an 18-point mechanical and safety check of a driver's vehicle every year.

Ben Hemson, an economic development advocate for the city of Bend, says there will be a thorough review of the city's taxi codes and much more discussion before taking any next steps. He expects the issue to come before the City Council no sooner than mid to late November, and with the holidays thrown in there, any decision could spill over into 2017.

Hemson says he regularly gets questions asking why the company isn't already operating here—evidence that while some are concerned about the possibility of Uber's arrival, for others the change can't come soon enough.

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