Eugene reviewing proposal to encourage Uber’s return

Despite the rumors, Eugene may not see Uber return for the foreseeable future.

On April 3, 2015, the San Francisco-based ridesharing service, which currently operates in 410 cities worldwide, suspended operations in Eugene. The company sent a letter to Mayor Kitty Piercy and city council members explaining its withdrawal.

The letter stated that Eugene “decided to knowingly pursue an unworkable and outdated regulatory framework that would make it impossible for Uber to operate.”

Uber had three main complaints concerning the city’s public passenger vehicle regulations: The city’s insurance details, background check protocol and vehicle inspection requirements.

In an effort to bring the popular ridesharing service back, Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz is considering a proposal that would make Uber’s return to the city more feasible.

The proposal would add transportation network companies, like Uber, to the list of companies that may operate in Eugene and impose loosened insurance regulations and less frequent vehicle inspections on Uber drivers. However, the inspection process and background check protocol would remain the same.

Bryce Bennett, Uber’s general manager for the state of Oregon, has great interest in establishing the list of transportation network companies in Eugene. However, he said that the city’s inability to change prevents that from happening. Bennett points to the inspection protocol as one of the deal breakers.

“[The city wants] double-sided lettering on all vehicles, which treats it very much like a taxi cab,” Bennett said. “Unfortunately, with people being very part-time, having them put full decals on both sides of the doors or getting their car painted or anything like that is going to deter a lot of people.”

Despite Bennett’s opinion of the proposal, Laura Hammond, Eugene’s community outreach and participation coordinator, remains optimistic when it comes to Uber’s return.

“I agree with our city council. I think it would be great to have services like Uber and Lyft,” Hammond said. “I’m hopeful that we’ve made enough accommodations. We’ve changed the rules, we’ve updated the codes, so I’m hopeful that they come back.”

University of Oregon services like the Designated Driver Shuttle also hope to see Uber in Eugene in the near future.

DDS driver Kristen Craig said that when Uber was around, students saw shorter wait times for rides.

“Our biggest thing is we don’t want wait times to be over 30 to 45 minutes,” she said. “Uber would definitely [alleviate] that because sometimes people would take them instead of somewhere else.”

While there are many advocates for Uber, some, like Eugene Hybrid Cab driver Jason Funkhouser, think that transportation network companies are getting unfair treatment from the city and that it will destroy the taxi industry.

“Until they can prove that they’re something other than just another slimy taxi company, they don’t need to be here,” Funkhouser said. “Any time there’s been an issue with either a customer or a driver, they will back away and let their lawyers push those people under the bus.”

Funkhouser referred to multiple instances of taxi activity plummeting in cities where Uber operates.

The city manager should have a verdict on the proposal by the end of the month. If the proposal is accepted, then it will be up to Uber to decide whether they operate in Eugene again.

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Wes Franco

Wes Franco