The Medford City Council has taken a positive step by paving the way for ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft to operate here while doing as much as possible to protect existing taxi companies from unfair competition.
Uber and Lyft provide rides to customers who use a smartphone app to summon a driver, an independent contractor in a private vehicle. The transportation network companies — TNCs — are popular in big cities, where a customer can summon a ride in minutes rather than waiting longer for a cab to be dispatched.
Wait times are one of the primary complaints about traditional cab companies. If the threat of Uber or Lyft drivers snagging fares by being faster leads cab companies to up their game, the consumer will benefit.
Traditional cab companies fought against allowing the TNCs in, but ultimately had to settle for an ordinance that at least imposes some of the same regulations on ride-sharing companies that cab firms face.
Each company will pay a $1,000 business license fee, and each Uber or Lyft driver will pay $60, the same as cab drivers. All drivers will be subject to the same background checks, which will expand to all 50 states rather than the current Oregon-only check, and the cab and TNC companies will conduct the checks, which are now done by Medford police.
That should provide an extra measure of safety to customers and properly take the burden off the police department.
A complaint from taxi companies that they have to pay a parking fee to wait in the loading zone at the airport while Uber and Lyft won’t doesn’t hold water. The ride-sharing drivers might respond to a call from an airport customer, but won’t be likely to sit and wait for planes to unload when they could be responding to a call elsewhere.
Whether the new business model will work here remains to be seen. All-Star Taxi owner Tony Scott said he thinks Uber and Lyft will fail in this market, but he also predicts 10 to 20 of the area’s 52 cab companies will be forced out of business.
It’s possible that one or the other will come to pass, but probably not both. More likely is a gradual shaking out in the market as customers use the service they’re most comfortable with.