Coming Soon to Oregon: Statewide TNC Regulations?

Oregon is the last state to not have any statewide regulations on TNCs (e.g., Uber and Lyft)—but that may be changing this legislative session. Willamette Week, a Portland weekly, obtained a copy of a draft bill that proposes regulating TNCs statewide. The bill has not yet been made public, but whatever language it currently includes suggests that local authority would be preempted, at least to some extent. The City of Portland, which has local regulations for TNCs (including data and reporting requirements and a $0.50 per trip surcharge), is apparently none too happy about it. Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who is also Portland’s transportation commissioner, sent a letter to Anthony Foxx, Lyft’s chief policy officer, after learning that Lyft is “behind” the bill. In it they argue that the bill would effectively “‘eliminate local consumer, safety and disability-access protections'” for riders. (For those interested, the complete text of the letter is available here, along with transit consultant Jarrett Walker’s take on it.)

It’s understandable why companies like Lyft are interested in seeing statewide regulations enacted—if every jurisdiction has its own regulatory framework that companies have to comply with it makes scaling operations more difficult. And statewide regulations, as a whole, are not necessarily bad. However, statewide regulations that preempt local authorities can effectively eliminate important leverage points at the local level, and that can be problematic.

What if state legislators took Portland’s regulatory language and codified them into law, taking Lyft’s interest in a statewide regulatory framework and applying Portland’s standards to TNCs to every city in Oregon? Those could serve as the minimum standards and cities could retain abilities to add to them based on local context. Theoretically, both could be satisfied by this—Lyft with a uniform framework and Portland for retaining control, along with seeing similar standards applied elsewhere.

The Oregon representative sponsoring the bill suggests that minimum standards are what she’s really after—she is quoted as saying that she’s just interested in seeing a “floor” created without necessarily putting limitations on what local jurisdictions can do. But what the floor looks like will remain a mystery until the bill is officially introduced. For their part, Lyft’s spokeperson “‘said the company is ‘committed to working collaboratively with policymakers and regulators.'” It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. Stay tuned, folks.


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One comment

  1. Gary Collins

    Both Uber and Lyft are avidly pursuing AV technology, and have demonstration projects going in several cities. That is the end goal: self-driving vehicles. There is a major push on by them both to soften the market for AVs on the premise that they offer a major benefit to energy efficiency, environmental preservation, and, especially, traffic congestion relief in the context of portal to portal transit. This is akin to the same sales pitch the major auto manufacturers, AAA, and road builders collaborated in: the auto was the panacea for portal to portal transit. Look around; that promise has hardly been a success. Auto technology has facilitated sprawl, added to atmospheric pollution and global warming, and is about the most expensive and dangerous transit system imaginable. AVs may have somewhat different effects, but they are still cars, and will continue the sprawl paradigm, not least because Americans, in particular, are not likely to abandon the family car too easily as an icon of personal identity. Also, AVs will depend upon new public infrastructure for success, with the bill to be picked up by taxpayers. Please, let’s come at this with great caution; we are still being set up to buy more cars at a time when best urban design principles are suggesting phasing them out.

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