A city experiment to legalize Uber and deregulate Portland's taxi industry—deemed "Taxis Gone Wild"—is returning to City Council next week with a new twist: no fare restrictions for cabs.


Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick announced in a press release they've tweaked their plan for Uber and its competitor Lyft for a 120-day test drive. They say they've responded to cab-company outcry by giving taxis a new means to compete: removing price restrictions for cab companies from city code.

“The existing taxi companies have [argued] that any competition needs to be fair competition," Novick said in a prepared statement. "We agree with that, and in order to ensure fair competition, the proposed framework makes some changes to the task force’s recommendations – and underscores certain features of those recommendations that might not have been well understood.”

Hales and Novick announced they plan to ask City Council to vote on their 120-day pilot program at a public hearing on Tuesday, April 21.

So when will your Uber be arriving? Possibly as soon as next week.

Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera says that once Council approves the plan, it will take "a matter of days or a week or so," for the agency to get the pilot up and running.

"With our public involvement process everyone knows what’s on the table and [the ride-hailing companies] are able to prepare," Rivera says. "We believe they’ve started background checking drivers."

City Council delayed a vote on Uber last week, after Commissioners Nick Fish, Amanda Fritz and Dan Saltzman questioned the details of Hales and Novick's proposal.

Cab companies argued the rule changes tilted the market unfairly toward Uber by letting the company charge whatever it wanted while setting maximum fare caps for taxis.

The new proposal requires ride-hailing companies pick up passengers with disabilities and forbids them from charging more for accessible pickups. 


Since drivers for Uber and Lyft use their personal vehicles which usually can't accommodate wheelchairs, the ride-hailing companies agreed to subcontract those rides. 


At last weeks Council hearing, Uber announced it would partner with First Transit to pick up wheelchair passengers when it resumes service in Portland. Similarly, Lyft said in a statement it is working out a deal with Ride Connection.


UPDATE, 3:49 pm: Ride-hailing companies and taxi companies have quickly issued statements responding to Hales and Novick's new proposal. No surprise: Lyft and Uber are happy. The cab companies are not. 


"This is an exciting first step toward securing a future for Lyft in the City of Portland," says Lyft lobbyist Pat McCormick, "and we appreciate the city's commitment to welcoming ridesharing."


A coalition of cab companies had argued that Uber should have to play by the same rules as cabs on pricing. Hales and Novick's new plan does exactly that—by removing price caps for everybody.


But Broadway Cab president Raye Miles says in a statement, issued on behalf of six taxi companies, that this free-for-all still doesn't give cab drivers a chance against Uber, and hurts passengers.


"With few fixed costs, and billions of dollars in capitalization, Uber and Lyft can, and likely will, lower rates significantly below what taxis must charge to be sustainable," Miles writes.


"Unregulated pricing puts passengers at a disadvantage during high-demand periods, and puts drivers at a disadvantage during low-demand periods," she continues. "If all players are unregulated, they’ll all be able to make up for the low rates by increasing fares at peak demand times, but at what expense to passengers?"


Miles adds that the city's smallest cab companies will likely go out of business under the new plan.


UPDATE, 6:03 pm: While Uber could return in a matter of days depending on the vote, taxis may have to wait before their new rules take effect.


Josh Alpert, Hales' senior policy adviser, says that the the plan is broken into two components that will change the “for-hire” rules in Portland. The first is a “resolution” and sets new regulations for the ride-hailing companies only.


City Council could pass this portion of the plan with a majority vote, and Uber and Lyft could roll back to town immediately.


The second component is a set of “emergency” code changes that will immediately lift the fare restrictions and change other rules for cabs that level the playing field.


“It allows for the taxi cabs to really have a shot at competition in this market.” Alpert says. “The idea of having an emergency clause in the ordinance is to immediately allow the cabs to change their model at the beginning of the 120-day pilot.”


City Council must unanimously approve the code changes for cabs, or cabbies will have to wait another month before they can start charging what they want.


Translation: Depending on how council members vote on Tuesday, Uber could could be welcomed back now with no limits on what it charges riders, whereas cab companies could remain encumbered by fare restrictions for a month.