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Carpooling bill would override Portland plans for ride fees


A bill in Salem would have major implications for one of Portland’s top transportation priorities.

Portland officials are concerned about the environmental and congestion impacts of transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft, and have recently set out to find ways to mitigate some of those impacts with transportation-related fees.

The city of Portland also has charges $0.50 fee per TNC ride that the Portland Bureau of Transportation uses to fund programs like PDX-WAV, which helps people with disabilities to access on-demand transport services more easily. This surcharge also makes it possible to finance a PBOT program which helps TNC drivers access free legal services to resolve any disputes with the company they are contracted to.

Corn Senate Bill 1558presented to the Oregon Senate last week by the Joint Transportation Committee and scheduled for his first hearing in this committee tomorrow, could undermine these efforts. A source close to the issue contacted us by email to warn us: “I think the transport community should be very concerned about its effects.”

Acting PBOT communications director Hannah Schafer told us this morning that she doesn’t think the bill will make it out of committee. Although she didn’t if PBOT lobbied against it, Schafer did express some concerns. “The way he was redefining carpooling could have had all sorts of implications for drivers,” she commented.

SB 1558 would create new regulations for TNCs and food delivery companies. This would require them to meet specific targets for the percentage of service miles provided by zero-emission vehicles, prohibit per-person limits on rebates available under electric vehicle rebate programs, and prevent local governments to impose per-ride fees unless the money generated by those fees would go towards regulating ride-sharing or food delivery services or funding electric vehicle infrastructure.

The Oregon EV Rebate program prevents companies from getting rebates on more than 10 electric vehicles per year. If that were to be eliminated under this bill, companies like Lyft and Uber could receive rebates on an unlimited number of electric vehicles they purchase for use in Oregon.

It would seem beneficial for the environment to require Uber and Lyft to electrify their fleets. While Uber and Lyft have been touted as efficient alternatives to owning personal vehicles, studies have shown they may actually be worse For the environment. In response to these concerns, transnational corporations have announced zero emission goals this would theoretically be satisfied by using only electric vehicles.

But for this to happen, the people who work for these ridesharing companies may suffer.

At this moment, the Oregon EV Rebate Program prevents companies from getting rebates on more than 10 electric vehicles per year. If that were to be eliminated under this bill, companies like Lyft and Uber could receive rebates on an unlimited number of electric vehicles they purchase for use in Oregon.

Both Uber and Lyft run car rental programs that people who drive for these ride-sharing companies can use instead of driving their personal car, but the cost isn’t cheap. Contract employees, who are already earning precarious wages, pay around $200 a week to rent one of these cars, and subsequent income is not guaranteed.

If TNCs were incentivized to buy EVs for rent in order to earn more money in discounts, people driving for these platforms might be encouraged to participate in this rental option without any guarantee of financial stability. While operating a rental fleet might be a good idea to reduce the number of personal vehicles people own and go electric, there needs to be more regulations that ensure employees would be compensated fairly.

On top of that, SB 1558 would also restrict Oregon’s ability to charge carpool and food delivery fees related to congestion pricing efforts. This would interfere with a key objective of the Fair Mobility Pricing Options (POEM) plan proposed by the PBOT, which aims to create new driving fees that will reduce car use and increase income.

National studies have shown that one of the reasons ride-sharing companies cause so many traffic jams is because of “dead sense,” which refers to the time someone driving a car for Uber or Lyft spends without a passenger in the car, making scoping around town for places where they might get a client.

Since these TNC companies don’t have to pay drivers for the time they spend trying to find passengers, they actively encourage this practice by flooding the supply of drivers so customers can snap their fingers and drive. This wastes a lot of gas and street space. It also wastes time for people who drive for these companies, who spend much of their unpaid time on the road burning oil.

If the PBOT were to charge new fees for using TNCs or delivery companies, as the POEM plan proposes, this could encourage people to look for other means of transport, and the revenue generated by this toll could be used to finance transport projects. SB 1558 would severely restrict the benefits of any royalty system for such services, and also limit the use of the current $0.50 surcharge.

An example of a program that could be used to help limit congestion and carbon emissions caused by deadheading is Seattle Transit Company Minimum Compensation Order. The order requires companies like Uber and Lyft to pay drivers using a fee structure that takes into account the time they spend waiting for customers. This deterrent saturates the market with people driving for TNCs, helping both employees and the environment.

Although sources say the TNC provisions will likely be dropped from SB 1558, the fact that these issues have been under consideration indicates where future conversations may lead.

Hannah Schafer of the PBOT communications office said she would continue to follow discussions in Salem on TNC regulation, particularly when certain bills could impact the agency’s bottom line and/or on transport and climate change objectives.

“We have a lot of experience and knowledge on this subject,” says Schafer. “We will continue to keep an eye on things to come.”

SB 1558 is the first item on Thursday’s agenda 8:00 a.m. joint transportation committee meeting.