Uber is rolling back into Portland this month. And it looks like the company will be allowed to bring its controversial "surge pricing" with it.
Draft recommendations from Portland officials, who are creating new rules for ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, show the city plans to mostly allow Uber's "surge pricing"—which hikes fares when demand is high.
The exception? Portland will bar surge pricing "during periods of abnormal market disruption"—in other words, citywide emergencies.
But the city will otherwise allow Uber and Lyft to charge passengers whatever they like—while keeping current rules that keep taxis from charging more than $2.60 per mile for each fare.
Cab companies, which have for months decried Uber's return, say this is another case of the city creating an uneven playing field.
"What the task force is suggesting is taxi companies continue to play by the same rules while writing a whole new set of rules for Uber—which are lighter," says Kelliann Amico, spokeswoman for the Transportation Fairness Alliance, a coalition of six Portland cab companies. "It's unfair. All we're asking for are legal and level recommendations. What the task force is suggesting is completely contradictory to that."
Uber regional manager Brooke Steger declined comment on the task force's recommendations, but says "dynamic pricing allows for reliability during times of high demand."
City Commissioner Steve Novick's office declined comment on the rules, saying the changes will be discussed at a public hearing Thursday.
Portland City Council is expected to vote April 15 on letting Uber back into town. Mayor Charlie Hales brokered a deal in December that forced Uber to leave—but the mayor pledged the company could return in April.
The latest draft of the rules for Uber and its competitor Lyft give power to city transportation director Leah Treat to bar surge pricing during "periods of abnormal market disruption." The rules give Treat leeway to decide what those times are.
Uber has taken criticism worldwide for surge pricing—hiking its fares during big events like the Super Bowl, or disasters.
After surge pricing pushed minimum charges to $175 per trip during a 2013 snowstorm in New York City, Uber promised the state attorney general it would cap fare increases during weather disasters.
Last December, Islamic extremists held customers at a downtown cafe hostage in Sydney, Australia. Uber used surge pricing to jack up its fares fourfold to a minimum of $100 per trip. Critics worldwide decried Uber's price gouging during the crisis.