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Uber, Lyft will start Dec. 1 in Medford

Uber and Lyft drivers will gear up for their first passengers in Medford Dec. 1 after the City Council Thursday night agreed to allow the international ride-sharing companies to compete with local taxis.

On a 7-to-1 vote, the council approved an ordinance that provides a framework for how the transportation network companies should operate in the city, a framework patterned after other Oregon cities such as Bend.

Craig Cooper, with the National Federation of the Blind and a local resident, said his organization supports Uber and Lyft because the blind need more transportation options.

“When you call a cab, you wait and wait and wait,” he said.

Uber and Lyft are fast and affordable, and they will benefit the overall population of the city, Cooper said.

Local taxi companies have opposed the move, saying it will put 10 to 20 companies out of business along with drivers.

Uber and Lyft generally supported the ordinance, though they opposed some of the language, including a requirement that drivers must take the most direct route. If a crash occurs on Interstate 5, they said, it may be better to take surface streets to get the customer to the destination faster.

Councilor Tim D'Alessandro said he supports this new transportation option.

"We always welcome affordable options for the elderly and disabled community," he said.

City Attorney Lori Cooper said that in Bend, Uber predicted it would have 52 drivers, but after six months in operation it has 573 drivers.

She said it's difficult to predict whether Uber would enjoy the same popularity in Medford.

Under the ordinance, Uber and Lyft would each pay $1,000 for a business license, while individual drivers, considered independent contractors, would pay $60, the same as taxi drivers.

All of the background checks for drivers would be conducted by the businesses, including the taxi companies, instead of by Medford police. The current background check for just Oregon would be expanded to include all 50 states.

Evan Lasley, with the Oregon AFL-CIO, said his union had concerns that Uber and Lyft may leave working families behind. He also cited what he described as Uber’s unscrupulous practices.

“Uber has a blatant disregard for local laws,” he said.

He said drivers are referred to as independent contractors, but Uber controls their working conditions and scheduling.

Councilor Dick Gordon said he thought Lasley was asking the city to do the job of the AFL-CIO.

“You’re the ones who should be taking them on, not the city,” he said. “You have the resources, you have the ability to take them on.”

Lasley said the national organization of the AFL-CIO is currently involved in a lawsuit against Uber.

Councilor Kay Brooks said she wondered whether Uber and Lyft would make enough provisions for people with disabilities. While the companies said they have a non-discrimination policy, they couldn't give 100 percent assurance that they would be able to handle disabled passengers for every ride.

Brooks was the only "no" vote, saying she was ignored by the council when she wanted to ask more questions about the ordinance.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Uber, Lyft will start Dec. 1 in Medford