Salem city councilors on Monday pushed forward with city code changes that may eventually allow Uber and Lyft in the state capital, though they are still far from officially approving and instituting those changes.
In the lead-up to the council meeting, City Hall staffers drafted code amendments that would set up similar rules for taxi companies and companies that use ride-hailing apps — also called transportation network companies.
Local taxi company Willamette Valley Yellow Cab fired back with its own suggested changes for the draft amendments, including a requirement that drivers be at least 23 years old, not 21.
City staff looked to a Bend ordinance and molded the Central Oregon city's rules to better fit Salem. Though Salem is considering its own rules, Oregon lawmakers have sponsored House Bill 3246, which would institute statewide rules for these kinds of ride-hailing companies.
Willamette Valley Yellow Cab officials came to council chambers to voice their opposition, citing concerns about the city lowering standards for the companies. Company owner Al Wakefield said Uber is "getting a bad rap."
The Salem council meeting came after Uber faced sharp criticism: The San Francisco-based company came under fire over a program called Greyball that it used to elude regulators. The New York Times earlier this month revealed Uber used Greyball, part of a larger program referred to as VTOS or "violation of terms of service," in cities to avoid authorities working to crack down on use of the ride-hailing service.
Wakefield said: "I oppose."
Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett, who has advocated bringing ride-hailing here, responded: "I caught that one."
Uber spokesman Jon Isaacs told Salem city councilors Monday that there are more 10,000 active Uber account users in Salem and more than 500 active drivers. He said Uber speculates they go to Portland.
"We see it as creating a level playing field," he said of the code changes, saying they were similar to those in Bend and Redmond.
Isaacs said Uber facilitated a conversation between the Salem police department and Checkr, the company Uber uses for background checks. He said 80 percent of all Uber fares go to the drivers.
"It'll add another option to the mix," Isaacs said.
In an interview, Isaacs declined to comment on the Greyball matter.
Uber worked in Salem starting in 2014 before leaving the city, and sharing economy companies haven't always fared well in Salem. Airbnb Inc. recently announced its Salem hosts made a combined $465,000 in 2016, but it was unclear if those hosts were paying city taxes on the income. Airbnb said it wants to work with the city to remit taxes on its hosts behalf.