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Uber Lobbies Against Oregon Legislators

Friday, May 29, 2015


Legislators in Salem have been working to craft legislation that would mandate “transportation network companies” such as Uber and Lyft to hold higher levels of insurance than they currently hold for their drivers the entire time they are online and accepting rides. The measure, House Bill 2995, would preempt Oregon’s longstanding practice of allowing local regulation of this type of industry. In a fairly blatant move to kill the fledgling industry, the bill would exclude traditional taxi companies. Not surprisingly, Uber is leading the charge to ensure this measure doesn’t pass.

According to public records, Uber has retained Dan Bates of Thorn Run Partners. Bates, a respected lobbyist who leads a team of four, has deep ties to the City of Portland. His most recent position before Thorn Run Partners was as the City of Portland’s chief lobbyist. While Bates may be an unfamiliar name to most, he is a respected force in the Capitol. His firm represents just shy of 20 clients in Salem.

Uber’s efforts at the city level preceded their current effort in Salem. In addition to the $67,000 fine they paid for operating without approval last year, Uber spent nearly $13,000 in the first quarter of this year alone lobbying the City of Portland. 

A review of the lobbying contacts made to city officials include few surprises. The effort included many visits by a half a dozen different people. One visit that did raise eyebrows is that of Portland’s premiere Democratic campaign consultant, Mark Weiner. The city’s lobbying reports show he made a personal trip to see Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

According to filings with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, Weiner helped elect many of the current Democrats in Salem, works for the Senate and House Democratic campaign arms and has deep ties to Oregon’s public employee unions. Weiner’s firm also received tens of thousands of dollars from Governor Kate Brown’s most recent election. Neither Uber officials, their local public relations firm, their lobbyists in Salem nor Weiner himself would respond to questions about Weiner’s involvement. A visit to Saltzman should have also been recorded on his calendar, yet the visit does not exist, further raising red flags. 

Having strong lobbyists is par for the course for Uber. The Washington Post recently reported that Uber has 161 registered lobbyists across the country. They employ David Plouffe as their in-house counsel. Plouffe rose to prominence by successfully running President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. In Nevada, where they just passed a measure allowing ride-sharing to operate, Uber hired a high profile lobbyist known for representing Amazon.comZappos.com and Dish Network.They have comparably strong lobbyists in other states as well. Uber’s legislative tactics are considered above board and even old school.

The contrast with the opposition is stark. The Transportation Fairness Alliance, the coalition of cab companies formed to fight ride sharing has retained long-time lobbyist Steven Kafoury, a former State Senator and father of Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. Despite Kafoury’s pedigree, he seems to be operating more as a lone ranger. This battle may well be his last hurrah. Some capitol insiders think he is well positioned to get a measure passed that would effectively shut down Uber and Lyft in Oregon. His longevity and longstanding personal relationships far outweigh those of the Thorn Run team, which is a far newer group. 

Another thing that Kafoury has going for him is that even senior Uber officials are unsure what the measure in Salem would actually do. That makes a measure hard to fight. When asked recently, Uber Spokewoman Kate Downen offered only that it is“confusing” and an “anti-innovation bill that would prevent drivers from purchasing their own insurance, or obtaining additional insurance on top of Uber's policy.”

This week in lieu of answering any questions, Downen provided this statement:

"This bill is written in a way that makes it nearly impossible for Transportation Network Companies to operate. More than 20 states-- as well as the city of Portland-- have passed regulations that understand the unique nature of ridesharing, and we hope Oregon's leaders in the legislature can do the same." 

With such an impressive team and a measure they think is so innocuous, you would expect Uber might be less willing to levy the threat of ceasing to do business in Oregon. Unfortunately, that is not the case.  With over 500 drivers, according to Uber, – some of whom are making the bulk of their living as Uber drivers – such threats can have a chilling effect on their workforce. Drivers are facing no such luck and already worried about how to pay their bills should Uber take its ball and go home (again). Unlike riders, drivers have still yet to be engaged in the lobbying effort to preserve their livelihood.

Meanwhile, Uber is continuing to roll out new features as if their future is bright. On Wednesday they launched “dynamic” pricing in Portland, and before day’s end charged at least two times the normal fares if you happened to be in an area with high demand. Uber drivers were given fair notice and cheered the launch of this new feature. It appears riders get no advanced warning their rates might be as much as twice as much to get home as it took to get to their destinations earlier in the night until. When theytry to summon a car, they are in for a surprise.

Starting as early as today the company is launching Uber Pedal, a service that will allow you to throw your bikes (up to two) on the back of select cars. One should not be surprised that it comes with a small price tag. No word on whether they will increase the cost if there are too many bike rack requests at the same time though. Portland seems to be only the second city (with Seattle being the first) to launch Uber Pedal.


Related Slideshow: What 20 Cities Around the World Did when Uber Came to Town

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Louisville, KY

Uber launched in Louisville just in time for the Kentucky Derby last Summer.

Late last month, however, the Louisville Regional Airport Authority barred Uber from operating at its taxi pick-up and drop-off stations.

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New Orleans, LA

After seven months of wrangling, the New Orleans City Council ultimately voted in favor of legalizing ride-sharing services like UberX.

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New Delhi, India

The city's transportation authority banned Uber after accusations surfaced that an Uber driver took a young woman to a secluded area and raped her.

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Boston, MA

The City of Boston began working with a task force to work toward establishing ridesharing regulations.

This is after the city’s taxi cab union organized a rally where cab drivers drove around the block where Uber’s officers are and honked their horns for an hour.

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Amsterdam, Nederland

The Netherlands banned Uber services outright.

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Las Vegas, NV

Nevada issued a statewide ban against Uber after a court argued that the company operates just like a taxi business.

Uber temporarily halted its operations in the state later that week.

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Chicago, IL

The city government of Chicago chose to not take action when Uber came to town so its taxis did.

The Illinois Transportation Administration and the city’s taxi union sued the city in district court for allowing the company to operate in the city without becoming licensed operators.

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The government of Taiwan issued approximately $30,000 in fines to Uber before serving the company with a cease and desist letter.

Government suspended the licenses of a number of Uber drivers, according to reports.

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London, UK

London Mayor Boris Johnson stated it would be difficult to ban Uber without legal review.

In response, the city’s cab drivers staged protests similar to the one in Boston.

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Toronto, Canada

The City of Toronto issued a court injunction against the Uber last month.

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Seattle, WA

The Seattle City Council ruled 8-1 to allow Uber to operate in its city.

In the past, citizens have often been critical about the taxi system in Seattle.

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Montreal, Canada

Uber began operating in Montreal last month, and was quickly deemed illegal by the city government.

The company entered an agreement with the Royal Mounted Canadian Police to conduct background checks on its drivers and other safety regulations.

Meanwhile, the battle between the city and company is carrying on.

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Baltimore, MD

The Maryland Public Service Commission ruled that Uber is subject to the same rules and regulations imposed on other for-hire vehicles in the state.

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Bangkok, Thailand

The Thai government deemed Uber illegal last month. Drivers face maximum fines of up to $121 (฿4,000).

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Hoboken, New Jersey

Police in the City of Hoboken began ticketing Uber drivers for violating the city code on taxis. Fines can be as high as $1,000.

The mayor of Hoboken, on the other hand, has called Uber a valuable transportation option and said he wants to make it available to residents and visitors.

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Fort Lauderdale, FL

Broward County issued stern warnings against Uber, saying it would impound its drivers’ cars.

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San Antonio, TX

The San Antonio City Council is considering a vote that could increase restrictions on rideshare companies like Uber.

Uber responded with a letter stating that if the and amended ordinance is passed, Uber may have to abandon operations in the city.

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Salem, OR

The City of Salem issued a letter seven days after Uber began operating in its city.

The letter demanded that the company register its drivers and apply for taxi licenses.

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Munich, Germany

Germany also banned Uber from operating in its country this year.

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Denver, CO

Colorado became the first state successfully to pass a law regulating ride sharing by requiring background checks, vehicle inspections, and mandatory insurance for the drivers once they are logged into the app.


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