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Uber Not Living Up to its Promises in Portland

Friday, May 22, 2015


In a very short time Uber has gone from being the next big thing to being a problem for disabled passengers, disgruntled riders and even their own drivers are turning on them. This weekend will mark one month into the 120 day experiment with ride sharing in Portland. Uber and Lyft have been under scrutiny in Portland and afar for their secrecy and business practices. In that time, demand for taxi cab service has remained high and demand for Uber service on the weekends has led the company to offer a minimum hourly guarantee to its drivers. Unfortunately, Uber’s style could doom the likelihood of ridesharing permanency, despite the brimming demand.

News first broke this week that Uber is unable to provide adequate wheel chair accessible vans, as pledged as part of their agreement to return to the Rose City after suspending operations in December. Golocalpdx decided to dig a little deeper and learned Uber has a long trail of broken promises, here and afar. Looking at online message boards shared by local drivers shows Uber is seemingly spending very little effort to ensure driver happiness here.

While Uber seems to be getting many more drivers on the road at a much faster pace than competitor Lyft, the worry amongst their drivers is already growing. Uber’s model prevents drivers from knowing their riders or connecting with other drivers. The simple app that makes the system work also thwarts the possibility of drivers having an organized voice in the public policy debate. 

Uber is a nameless, faceless out of state corporation, but the drivers are largely locals who each have faces and stories that could be compelling. Uber operates in markets around the world. While ceasing business here would be a blow to the company, it would be crushing for the drivers since they are only in one market. While Uber activated its drivers to enable the re-launch last month, there have been no signs they plan to keep them engaged yet are using the rider app to alert riders (drivers use a different app called “Uber Partner” only available for download via a link once you are signed up).

In response to that criticism, Kate Downen, Uber spokesperson provided only this written statement

“Ridesharing is bringing economic opportunities and flexibility to hundreds of over 500-- and counting-- drivers in the Portland area already. We have been grateful for the tremendous support from driver-partners and riders in Portland and across Oregon-- with over 4500 folks signing a petition urging Oregon lawmakers to vote no on HB 2995, a bill that would stifle innovation, prevent drivers from obtaining additional insurance on top of Uber's policy, and possibly end ridesharing in Oregon." 

One Uber driver contacted and read that statement said he didn’t remember any such notification but even if he did it “sounds like an online petition, which have seemingly lost value given their ubiquity and ease to ‘sign.’”

Perhaps the biggest concern among drivers is pay – both short term and long term. When Uber decides to take a bigger piece of the pie, like they already have in cities where they are well-established, drivers will be forced to either accept a new, lower rate. The concerns of drivers goes on, and even in Portland they’ve taken note of these practices. Uber is quick to point out the percentage increase is a pilot project exclusive to San Francisco and San Diego. The standard percentage that Uber retains from a fare is 20%, which it is in the Portland market. Should that percentage increase, Uber is under no legal obligation to provide advanced notice to its drivers.

While other problems caused by Uber sound insignificant, they also impact driver’s pocketbooks. For instance, some drivers report being summoned to a location where no passenger was awaiting. In some cases the fare was a block away, in others miles across town. The time and mileage to get to the actual start of the trip is the responsibility of the driver. At other times, the app doesn’t work well. It doesn’t start as it is supposed to, leaving drivers to take an extra step in order to get remunerated. Uber officials claim this is an uncommon occurrence but would not speak further to the issue unless we provided them with the specific driver and trip information. The vast majority of Uber drivers spoken to were reticent to go on record given concerns with the amount of control Uber has over their ability to drive.

Additionally, Uber riders are expected to rate their drivers and leave comments if they choose. Unlike Yelp or other online reviews, if you dip below a certain level, Uber may discontinue using you without ever notifying you why. One driver we spoke with expressed concern over a low rating after refusing to purchase alcohol for high school aged passengers. He was uncertain how to determine what rating they’d left him but they left his car angry and cursing at him.

A bill in the Oregon Legislature Salem could prematurely up-end the entire experiment with ride-sharing. While transportation services like this have historically been governed at the local level, House Bill 2995 seeks to change that. It would require levels of insurance coverage by ride-share companies for their drivers not required of comparable businesses. Uber has signaled it could cease operations should this bill pass, which has a chilling effect on its drivers.


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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