Cabbies drive in protest of 'kickbacks,' plans for more taxis

Cabbies drive in protest of 'kickbacks,' plans for more taxis »Play Video
Cab drivers gathered at OMSI to prepare for their protest Wednesday morning. (Photo by Valerie Hurst, KATU News)

PORTLAND, Ore. - Dozens of taxicab drivers protesting what they call unfair treatment by several Portland hotels jammed the streets of downtown Portland Wednesday, causing a delay for morning commuters and guests trying to get out of town.

The drivers claim hotel doormen are taking kickbacks from certain cabs and are cheating the honest drivers out of passengers and fares.

They also said they are upset with City Hall and Mayor Sam Adams over plans to add 132 more taxis to Portland streets when they say they are already fighting each other for fares.

The drivers also called on Mayor Adams to sign into law an “anti kickback” ordinance that was approved in 2011.

When KATU News asked one doorman about the kickback allegations, he simply said to talk to his manager, Steve Yung.

Yung said he’s never had a complaint from taxi drivers – until now.

“Our policy strictly forbids that,” Yung said in response to the accusations about kickbacks. “Absolutely, without a doubt, we do not allow that to happen.”

When asked why his hotel was being targeted by the cabbies, Yung said he had no idea.

But Red Diamond, who said he represents the cabbies, was unconvinced. KATU News brought Diamond and Yung together to talk about the issues.

“Well, I’d like to know if the manager of the hotel is aware that these [doormen] are accepting kickbacks from drivers in exchange for access to customers.” Diamond said.

Yung maintained that he was not aware of any such kickbacks and that anyone taking them “would be dealt with accordingly.”

The two men continued their conversation and appeared to reach a compromise. The shook hands before police arrived and made the taxi drivers move on.

Diamond said a study by Mayor Adams “showed that drivers are barely able to earn minimum wage. With hotels shaking us down and statewide unemployment at 8.9 percent, if or fleet expands, we’ll starve.”

But the Mayor's office released a statement (full text below) saying more cabs are needed to meet demand and new regulations, including boosting fares, are designed to boost drivers' incomes.

About 30 cabs were involved in the protest Wednesday morning.

Official response from the Mayor's Office: 

The Mayor has not signed off on the Revenue Bureau’s recommendations; rather, he finds them to be compelling, but is looking forward to hearing the public comments and the input of the PFHT Board before making final conclusions. The release of these recommendations signals the beginning of the public process on them – not a final conclusion. City Council is not scheduled to hear this issue until November 7.

That said, the Mayor does not believe that these proposed changes, including the additional permits, will harm Portland’s working cabdrivers. The recommendations include the possibility of raised fares, better company regulations, and performance standards. Combined, these are expected to enhance drivers’ income.

The Mayor also believes that current demand is not being met; indeed, Portland’s permits-per-capita is very low when viewed alongside comparable cities. He is concerned that drivers are actually losing businesses because people are choosing alternative methods of transportation, when they face long waits for taxis, or can’t get a ride at all at certain times or in some neighborhoods. The goal is to boost the entire industry, which will benefit drivers and customers.

In respect to the Board process, the Mayor is deferring meetings with stakeholders on this issue until after October 10.