Uber driver Brian Bennett prepares to turn left on Northeast Winchester Street in Roseburg.

Mike Henneke/News-Review file photo

The city of Roseburg caught a ride from other cities that have ordinances where Uber and other ride-hailing companies have started operating, but took a few detours along the way.

Roseburg City Council considered a first draft of a vehicle-for-hire city ordinance Monday that would propose regulations aimed to cover ride-hailing companies and taxi companies. The proposed ordinance was modeled after Medford and other cities.

But unlike Medford’s ordinance, Roseburg’s initial draft has provisions that other cities where Uber is operating lack — the city would continue to require city background checks by the police department and require a clean background with no felonies for drivers.

Whether requiring a city background check would be another sticking point keeping ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft out of Roseburg remains to be seen. The City Council sent the ordinance back for legal review, and did not put it on first reading, the first step toward it becoming a city ordinance. That is expected to occur next month.

But a resident who showed up at the meeting told the council that she was concerned the regulations might delay companies from offering service in Roseburg, which she used while living in Portland before moving back to her hometown.

“For me, it is doing a disservice to not have it here,” Jayme Malkowski said.

The city began working on the new ordinance, which would apply to both ride-hailing companies and taxi companies, after Uber operated briefly in the city in February. City officials sent the company a letter saying that it did not meet the city’s ordinance, and could be subject to fines of up to $1,500 a day. Uber has said that per the city’s request, it has withdrawn its service in Roseburg for now.

City Recorder Sheila Cox noted the difference in the background checks between Roseburg’s and Medford’s ordinances. Medford lets Uber conduct its own background check.

While Uber’s background check goes back seven years, the city’s goes back decades for felonies. Consequently, the city’s ordinance would prohibit a driver with a previous felony from driving for one of the ride-hailing companies in the city, although the person could appeal.

Mayor Larry Rich also said there were differences between insurance requirements for the city’s ordinance and what Uber provides that could end up being a deal breaker.

Rich said it would be good to know ahead of time if the insurance provisions were a deal breaker before the city puts a lot of work into the ordinance.

Rich did not note the exact differences in his comment. The city ordinance proposes to require minimum liability insurance of $1 million.

The discussion on the ordinance drew a small audience of former Uber drivers who would like to get back to driving, residents, and taxi company owners who said the city’s ordinance has long required drivers to submit to background checks that go back decades.

Elite Taxi owner Joseph Buonauro told the council that the city has refused would-be drivers for “stuff” they did more than 20 years ago.

“One gentleman did nothing for 25 years. He was turned down by the city,” Buonauro said.

City officials acknowledged the background requirements were strict, and wrestled with the issue when people appealed.

On the other hand, the city loosened restrictions on its taxicab ordinance requiring workers compensation insurance, and other rules that could only be applied to standard taxi services, such as requiring a vehicle permit, specifying a minimum of three taxis available at all times, and 24/7 dispatching.

One thing the city did have in its proposed ordinance that could help taxicab owners keep a chunk of business was a restriction prohibiting ride-hailing companies from accepting “street hails,” or on-street requests for service.

Discussion of a revised ordinance in Roseburg comes as Uber apologized for missteps in 2014 in Portland and as Eugene held a public hearing Monday paving the way for Uber’s return.

In Portland, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the company on Monday posted the text of a letter it sent to the Portland City Council.

Uber didn’t identify the missteps, but their launch came without approval from city officials.

Uber then agreed to suspend operations for a few months while the city drafted new rules for a sanctioned launch.

In Eugene, city councilors are considering proposed changes that include a per-trip fee and the ability to audit ride-hailing company records up to two times a year.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

John Dickey can be reached at jdickey@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204.

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City Government and Business reporter

John Dickey is a city government and business reporter for The News-Review.

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