Salem council pushes forward with Uber rules

The Salem City Council tested its new Facebook Live stream for the first time with a conversation about a not so new topic: legalizing rideshare companies. 

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Residents overwhelmingly support bringing Uber and Lyft to Salem. The local cab companies are vehemently opposed.

Oregon’s capital has endured this debate time and time again. This time, under new direction by Mayor Chuck Bennett, the city might finally move forward and allow rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft to operate within city limits.

The council held its first reading of the ordinance April 10, and later voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing on the matter April 24th.

But the public has already made their view clear.

For example, Nick Williams, COO for the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, says the city is experiencing a robust economic expansion and needs to pay attention to the new community Salem can attract. 

Self-identified young professionals testified that they were surprised Uber wasn’t already operating in Salem.

“It wasn’t until I downloaded the app and tried to use it that I realized we didn’t have it,” says Tommy Walker.

Uber drivers living in Salem say they would love to work in their city, but currently make the commute to Portland to work.

Others including resident Pam Kniffin asked the council to consider the safety and accountability companies like Uber can offer for her four 20-something children who drink in downtown and need a safe ride home.

“I’m shocked, shocked, shocked every policeman is not here to say we (want this),” she says.

Near the end of public comment, one of the local cab companies steered the conversation away from the benefits of Uber. Al Wakefield, owner of Willamette Valley Yellow Cab, says their drivers are professionals, unlike rideshare employees.

Wakefield yello cabAl Wakefield displays an article about Uber drivers failing background checks during the April 10 meeting.

“When you haul people around as a transportation system you should be a professional,” Wakefield says. “A 21-year-old is not a professional.”

Some council members, and Wakefield, expressed concern with a bill in the legislature that would allow rideshare companies to operate statewide. House Bill 3246 had a public hearing last week, but no further action has been scheduled. Bennett isn’t surprised.

“It’s a mistake to base our actions on any kind of legislative action between now and July,” he says. “I really think the bill’s not going anywhere, I’ll just be honest with you.”

If last night’s meeting is any indication, the April 24 public hearing will likely result in the ordinance’s approval and an end to the two-year back and forth between city lawmakers and companies like Uber.