At the end of a months-long dispute, Portland has finally worked a deal out with Uber to allow the ride-sharing company (and competitor Lyft) to operate in Portland.
After ignoring a ban and operating in the city in violation of it, Uber will pay off its more than $67,000 in fines to the city of Portland and Portland will allow it a trial period of four months. Having Uber in the city comes with a lot of drawbacks and bad precedents though.
Uber tried to spin their entry into Portland as a scrappy startup trying to provide a valuable service to Portlanders, and maybe that narrative isn’t totally wrong.
Portland has a pretty obvious lack of cabs, and Portland’s tech-friendly reputation and love of AirBnB made Uber seem like a natural fit. Plus, the City Council jerked them around by delaying votes and going back on promises. But Uber wasn’t doing anything noble by flouting city regulations. Businesses ignoring laws because they think it’s their right to conduct business is a horrible precedent. Real concerns still exist about how to regulate Uber, and the whole situation should leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.
Their drivers can’t obtain comprehensive insurance and can only rely on company insurance if there’s a passenger in the car, they don’t receive benefits due to their status as contractors, and they can be fired if they have a rating lower than 4.5 stars on the app. Forcing Portland’s cab companies—which have to pay their workers actual wages and give them benefits—to compete with Uber’s dirt cheap fares and unlimited cars is unfair.
More transportation options are great, but they come at the cost of these kinds of poor working conditions. They’re coming at the cost of further encouraging the emerging practice of giving workers uncertain hours, part-time employment, and employing contractors and temps instead of actual employees that businesses have to be accountable to.
This company exemplifies some of the worst aspects of the so-called sharing economy while also demonstrating Silicon Valley techie entitlement by strong-arming their way into the city and trying to make it look like a movement. In emails and messaging leading up to the City Council vote, Uber ran a sappy astroturf campaign about getting Uber accepted into Portland, complete with rhetoric about “serving the community” and MoveOn.org-style online petitions. Uber is a taxi company with an app, it’s not a community organization.
Uber has a trial period of four months while the city and the community taskforce design new regulations, and I really hope that the city is able to come up with something that is a better deal for both the city’s existing cab drivers, future Uber drivers and customers. Uber has more or less made it clear that they won’t give up unless they receive an outright ban, and maybe not even then. It’s ignoring a ban in India, and it initially refused to pay fees while operating under a ban in Eugene. This same situation has played out in other cities and will keep playing out in more. Portland has the opportunity to create stricter, fairer regulations on how Uber operates in our city, and I hope we do.