The Parody of Parity

Last December I found myself seated at a conference table at Radio Cab, joined by representatives from every taxicab company in Portland. These small business owners and operators were all fiercely competitive with one another so that they were all civil, and in the same room, was in itself a feat. Aside from the commonality of being in an industry heavily regulated by the City of Portland, they all had one thing in common: they wanted a solution for dealing with Uber’s inevitable entry into Portland.

Knowing full well that the decision would ultimately rest in the hands of our civic leaders, the group unanimously agreed to challenge the City of Portland to require that Uber be held to the same rules as cab companies. This approach, we all agreed, was straightforward, and not at all combative. We all reasoned that this might even result in a loosened regulatory grip on traditional taxi operators.

What we didn’t realize at the time was that the cards were stacked against our group from the get-go. Needless to say, Uber is in Portland. It has 120 days to hold to a few regulations that were enacted to establish a level playing field for all players in the marketplace, but which fall dramatically short of parity.  

It’s been a month since Novick’s “Taxis Gone Wild” has come into being. Since then, a handful of Uber snafus have come to my attention, but two incidents, in particular, raise the eyebrows: An Uber driver T-boned a chef driving home from his place of work, and another Uber driver was jailed for evading a police officer. Neither of these events has been confirmed in the news media. Right now, they’re just the stuff of good gossip.

One thing Uber doesn’t like is for its drivers to take street hails because street hails eliminate Uber’s ability to take its 20 percent cut of every fare. In fact, it went so far as to encourage the City of Portland to make it unlawful for its drivers to accept street hails. But the truth is, no one is watching or enforcing. Particularly not Uber.

Hence this silly photo of an Uber driver with a cockeyed faux taxi dome light pasted to the top of its car. Cabbies call him the “Tupperware Uber” as his top light truly is fashioned from a plastic bin with black electric tape scrawling out the letters T A X I. Turns out this guy is a former cabbie who was blacklisted by all of the cab companies in town, yet at least for a time was allowed on the Uber platform. He owes the city thousands of dollars in fines, is known to drive drunk, and has a history of threatening assault.

Your private driver awaits.