David Plouffe Tells Mayor Charlie Hales: Uber Will Help East Portland

Mayor Charlie Hales (left) and Uber vice president David Plouffe.

Five months after cutting a deal that brought ride-hailing app Uber to Portland, company vice president David Plouffe and Mayor Charlie Hales faced off at a TechFestNW forum last night.

Their conversation traveled to a surprising destination: East Portland.

Plouffe pledged to Hales that Uber would provide city regulators with "anonymized, aggregated data" that would prove the San Francisco company was sending cars to the Portland neighborhoods least served by cabs and TriMet.

Hales said he hoped that City Council temporarily legalizing Uber and its rival Lyft last month would bring more transportation options to East Portland neighborhoods with unpaved streets and missing sidewalks.

"The level of transportation there is poor, and I hope this improves it," Hales said. "Data will help prove out that hope. If you can't walk half a mile, and you don't want to navigate that muddy street, this helps."

Plouffe and Hales were the headliners of last night's TechFestNW event in OMSI's Empirical Theater, where panelists ranging from Spinlister CEO Mercelo Loureiro to Lyft driver Suzanne Cummings discussed the opportunities and risks presented by the sharing economy.

The two have been locked in negotiations since last December, when Uber defied Portland City Hall by launching its service here. City Council voted April 21 to allow Uber and Lyft to operate on a test run for four months—while letting the taxi industry compete by removing price rules.

Plouffe, the former campaign manager for President Barack Obama, spent much of the evening evangelizing for deregulation of the taxi industry, arguing Uber—a tech company valued at $41 billion—wasn't at odds with liberal values.

"The people who believe in regulations should be the first to stand up and say when the regulations aren't working," he said. "Progressives should be leading the parade."

Meanwhile, Hales indicated that he's thinking about changing the regulations for another sharing economy company, the home-rental site Airbnb. The mayor said the failure of Airbnb operators to get safety inspections and city permits showed the city needed to lower the costs of registration, currently $180.

"The licensing part isn't working well," Hales said. "It might be too high a barrier to entry."

The two men spent much of the 40-minute discussion making nice. Hales even made light of the December phone conversation where City Commissioner Steve Novick threatened to "throw the book" at Plouffe and Uber. The mayor tossed a paperback in Plouffe's lap.

But the two men seemed to disagree when WW editor Mark Zusman asked Plouffe whether Uber should pay for its drivers' health care.

Plouffe said most Uber drivers already had full-time jobs. "A lot of them get health care from their employer," he said. "For those who don't, we have the Affordable Care Act."

Hales interjected.

"We need to keep the pressure on you to adopt our values," the mayor said. "I see in Portland the capacity for people to rise to the level of community expectation."

Watch the video below to see Hales and Plouffe discuss the unprintable words from their December phone call.

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