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Riders may soon be able to hail Uber and Lyft in Ashland

Ashland may begin allowing vehicle-for-hire services such as Uber and Lyft soon. A proposed ordinance to allow these services and to replace the current code is up for a first reading at the City Council business meeting from 7-10 p.m. today, Aug. 21, in the Council Chambers at 1175 E. Main Street.

The Ashland Municipal Code has regulated taxi services for roughly 20 years, but it doesn’t address newer forms of vehicle-for-hire services offered through Transportation Network Companies such as Uber and Lyft.

These programs allow regular people to use their cars as a taxi service. The drivers are privately contracted through the TNCs and are required to submit to background checks before they can pick-up customers, connecting via mobile apps. These services tend to cost less than the average price of a taxi ride but could pose issues due to the congestion of thousands of tourists to the small city. According to a staff report, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival alone draws in roughly 400,000 tourists a year.

At this meeting, staff is recommending council approve an ordinance repealing and replace the current code.

According to Scott Fleury, deputy public works director, a Public Transportation Feasibility Study is currently being conducted, scheduled to finish in November. The study started in March. An interactive mapping survey is available for citizens to leave feedback on specific areas of town at gis.ashland.or.us/coatransitstudy.

“The feasibility study is meant to determine what, if any, transit system improvements would benefit the city and also provide details on how to enact such improvements in conjunction with (Rogue Valley Transit District) as they are the transit system provider for the Valley,” Fleury said.

He said the study itself will only provide minor details about TNCs impact on Ashland, but still the Transportation Commission recommended council wait until the study is complete. However, if council decides to adopt the new ordinance before then, the ordinance as it is written is appropriate, Fleury said.

City staff was first contacted by Uber staff in November after Medford adopted its new ordinance allowing vehicles for hire. It was suggested that Ashland adopt Medford’s regime to have a cohesive service area because the cities are in such proximity to each other.

The recommended ordinance closely mirrors Medford’s, but also incorporates some safety measures used in larger cities, such as a 10-year look back for criminal convictions, required vehicle safety inspections, a limitation on the number of hours a driver may operate a vehicle within a 24-hour period and a requirement to provide wheelchair accessible vehicles upon request, according to the staff report.

An application fee for a permit to be employed by these services would be added as $5,000 for TNCs, $500 for taxi and limousine drivers and $60 for vehicle-for-hire drivers. The fee is intended to reimburse the city for administering the ordinance and to maintain the streets used by the service. The fee will be waived for any vehicle for hire that is fully electric or wheelchair accessible.

However, Uber objected to the city permit requirement in Ashland in a statement from its representative, Jon Isaacs, saying that requiring a permit in both Medford and Ashland is “unworkable.” He also said the rules would have to meet the exact requirements as Medford to create a “consistent regional service area.” Lyft objected to the 10-year criminal check and vehicle inspections as well.

Portland, Salem, Corvallis, Bend, Roseburg, Medford and Eugene now use vehicle-for-hire services.

The ordinance was reviewed by the Ashland Transportation Commission at its May 17, June 21 and July 19 meetings.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Uber driver Brian Savage drives to the Medford airport in February. Savage, who has a business license to drive for both Uber and Lyft, says his work provides income and a flexible schedule. Daily Tidings file photo