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'Uber' wants to operate in Portland, but barriers stand in their way

'Uber' wants to operate in Portland, but barriers stand in their way
A screenshot from the Uber app shows how users can see which cars are available nearby then use the app to hail a town car. The service is currently available in Seattle and San Francisco but not in Portland.

I was in Seattle earlier this year when a friend and I needed a ride from my hotel to his house. My first thought was to find the front desk and have them call a cab. How quaint.

In Seattle, tech-savvy commuters do things a bit different. My friend pulled out his iPhone and opened the Uber app. He glanced at a map, saw a town car was nearby and requested the car.

Within about three minutes the town car was pulling into the hotel driveway.

Why, I wondered, didn’t we have this service in Portland?

It turns out Uber wants offer their service in the Rose City, but regulations stand in the way. They include a requirement that all town car reservations be made at least 60 minutes in advance. That would effectively quash Uber’s business model.

Those regulations are in place to protect the taxi industry. Cab companies say in exchange for that protection, they play by a series of rules that aren’t necessarily good for business but serve the public.

That includes not refusing any ride, no matter how short or unprofitable. They also are required to have wheelchair accessible vehicles and operate 24 hours a day.

On Monday I chatted with Uber founder Travis Kalanick about his push to get into Portland, plus similar fights he has waged elsewhere.

“There are laws and regulations in Portland that are designed specifically to stifle any kind of competition or any kind of transportation alternatives in the city,” Kalanick said. “It’s done so, basically, to protect the taxi industry. In fact, Portland has some of the most extreme protectionist laws that we’ve seen around the country.”

Check out my full story in the politics section to read more about Kalanick and Broadway Cab president Raye Miles, who cautions city leaders about changing existing regulations.