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COURTESY OF UBER - Portland may launch a four-month pilot project in mid-April to allow Uber's legal entry into the local axi market. The Portland Bureau of Transportation is developing a four-month pilot program that would — temporarily — legalize Uber, Lyft and other new-style taxi companies in the city.


Under a plan announced Tuesday, the Portland City Council will hear an interim report on April 9 from a task force charged with figuring out changes in city taxi regulations to accommodate the new taxi companies, which the city calls transportation network companies. The following week, on April 15, the council would consider a resolution approving the 120-day pilot program that would pave the way for Uber and Lyft to start service here legally.

Under the resolution, taxis would have to abide by a set of draft rules being devised by the task force, which include new requirements for liability insurance and handicapped access.

Uber allows citizens to turn their private cars into taxis that customers can hail using their smartphones loaded with the Uber app.

The company’s freewheeling model violates city regulations that require standard rates and disabled access, among other requirements.

If Uber is allowed to function as it does in other cities around the world, many local taxi drivers fear Portland taxi companies will be forced to shrink, lay off workers, lower wages and possibly close down.

For taxi companies that survive, wages could be cut in half, says Steven Entler, general manager of Portland's Radio Cab. "That's what happened down in San Francisco," he said.

Bryan Hockaday, the taxi policy adviser for City Commissioner Steve Novick, said it's unclear the arrival of Uber would have the same impact on traditional taxi companies that some taxi drivers fear. The city intends to analyze the impact during the 120-day trial period and proceed from there, he said.

"The only data we have shows that there is a large unmet demand for for-hire service."

Entler doubts the city can revert to the current highly regulated taxi market if the pilot project doesn't succeed. "If they turn everybody loose for 120 days, they may as well make it forever," he said. "They can't reverse it."

The draft regulations, subject to change, include requirements to:

• allow city inspection of the vehicles

• require background checks for drivers, barring drivers with felonies in the past 10 years, or more than four traffic violations in the prior year

• require that 10 percent to 20 percent of the fleets be equipped to accommodate wheelchairs.

• drivers must complete a bureau-approved training in driver safety and customer service

• the city will impose a fee on taxi revenue

Uber declined interview requests on the city's proposal but released a brief prepared statement. "We are looking forward to the recommendations the Mayor's Task Force is crafting to ensure that ridesharing is part of Portland's transportation ecosystem in April," the company states. "We have been thrilled by the warm reception from Portland residents and are excited about having a regulatory framework that recognizes the unique nature of ridesharing and allows Uber to call Portland home."

On a separate track, the city also is taking steps to expand the number of traditional taxis in Portland. The city recently agreed to allow an additional 242 taxis, though only 10 of those have been placed in service, Hockaday said. The City Council also approved a new taxi provider in the city, known as EcoCab, which has the rights to field 51 taxis in the city.

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