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September 28, 2011: PFHT Board of Review Minutes

City of Portland Revenue Bureau Regulatory Division

PRIVATE FOR-HIRE TRANSPORTATION

BOARD OF REVIEW

Minutes for September 28th, 2011 meeting

 

 

1. Call to Order

Time: 1:35pm

 

Roll Call

Present: John Case, Kat Wilkes, Pat Montgomery for Raye Miles, John Vater and Susan Florentino for Gail Bauhs, Michael Huggins, Red Diamond, Muzafar Rasheed, Yassin Mohammed, Ramon Corona, Jeff Blosser, Jon Putman, Al Ochosa, Kathleen Butler, Frank Dufay, Patrick Kramer, and Lauren Wolfe

Absent: Ryan Hashagen

Others/Audience: The list of other attendees is available from the Revenue Bureau.

2.     Agenda

 

Motion to approve the Agenda: Putman

Seconded: Corona

Passed Unanimously

3.     Approval of Minutes from July 13th, 2011

 

Motion to approve the Minutes: Case

Seconded: Putman

Passed Unanimously

 

4.     Requests for Additional Taxicab Permits (Recommend postponement to November Board Meeting)

Motion to Postpone Taxi Permits to November 9th Meeting: Corona

Seconded: Montgomery

Passes Unanimously

 

5.     Proposed Prohibition Against Payment for Referrals

 

Introduction:

                   Dufay said that it is important to understand that the issue with payment for referrals is not just a problem in Portland it is a problem in other cities as well. Other jurisdictions have started to impose new rules and regulations to help address this issue.  The Regulatory Division has spent time talking with the hotel owner, managers, doormen and drivers.

                    Dufay briefly explained the reason for having two different versions of the proposal. Version 1 says that the valets, doormen and hotels would be held responsible while Version 2 adds that the drivers will also be held accountable.

                   Diamond said that he is very satisfied with what has been discussed in previous meetings in regard to this issue. “It is important to pass the Proposal if we are going to try to fix this problem with giving payments for referrals.”

                  Butler explained that the Version 2 Proposal describes in section C that the hotels will be given a warning for the first violation before a penalty is issued. This will allow the hotel managers to take appropriate action against their employee in order to help prevent this type of practice from continuing. If there is a second and third violation with the same hotel employee, agent or independent contractor then we would be looking for evidence that the hotel had taken action against that employee. If there is no evidence that suggests any action was taken, then the hotel is liable for a civil penalty. 

                  Montgomery suggested that the companies also be informed when the drivers are caught. If the companies also had some idea about what was happening with the drivers then they would also have the chance to take action against the employee and help enforce this.

 

Public Testimony

 

                        Rees Erwin, President of Portland Concierge Association, asked if the language specified whether or not payment for referrals for tours and other compensation for business will be affected by the proposal being passed. Mr. Erwin said that his main concern with the proposal is that it will have a deeply negative impact on the industry that relies on commission payments and tips as part of business and employee income.

                   Ochosa said that the “main concern lies with the undocumented payments. There has to be a way to keep track of the commission and gratuity in order for it to be legitimate.” 

                  Butler replied that if the commission is documented and reported for tax purposes then we would have to add additional language to the Code in order to accept that type of compensation.

 

                   Darin Campbell, a driver for Radio Cab had a couple of concerns regarding the proposed language. One was that there doesn’t seem to be any criteria for enforcement. “It doesn’t say what evidence you need to have, who is going to collect that evidence and what the process is”.

                  Butler replied that enforcement methods are not typically included in the Code language. 

                   Mr. Campbell said that his other concern is with posting fixed rate signage. He stated that cabs should not be locked in a fixed rate because meters run by time and mileage. If there is heavy traffic and you have to take the longer route then the meter will be higher than that fixed rate amount. If hotels are forced to post rates then it will be very difficult for taxi drivers to follow that rule.

                   Mr. Campbell also stated his concern about getting harassed by other drivers when going to pick up customers at hotels. Many of these drivers are often times forceful and will immediately confront him and other drivers about the legitimacy of the pick up.  There should be something addressed in the Code language that penalizes drivers who are displaying this type of aggressive and inappropriate behavior.

                   Dufay replied that he had been called on a number of occasions to hotels where drivers were displaying aggressive behavior and in some cases issued penalties.        

                   Butler added that, although there is something already in the Code that addresses this issue, it is a good idea to include more specific language that prohibits that type of behavior.  

                   Muse Hassan, a driver for Radio Cab said that his main concern lies with some drivers not being honest about having reservations. Mr. Hassan suggested that all reservations be directed from dispatch rather than the hotels to help document the reservation as well as help to save time for the drivers.

                   Ali Al-Abbas stated that there are two main causes to the problem with payments for referrals. One is that there are too many taxis on the road and as a result, the competition for fares becomes greater. The second is that because there is more competition and fewer customers the drivers sometimes charge the customers more money for the fare.

                   Tracy Marks, manager at the Hilton Hotel, argued that he wanted to see the proposal before the Board meeting so that he could have had a chance to review it. Mr. Marks stated that the Code should include taxi drivers because they are the ones who should be considered as most guilty of the violations. He said that gratuities in customer service related industries are routine and he “cautions the prohibiting of gratuity for any individuals.” Mr. Marks said that gratuities should never be solicited and if someone is caught soliciting in his hotel they will be punished for it. The concierge at the Hilton, provide services such as, rides, reservations, tours, peoples laundry etc that required gratuity. “You cannot take away the tip that a customer might give them for a ride or for arranging a dinner reservation.” Mr. Marks said that the City needs to change the language in the Code and maybe have a little more input from the hotels before making a decision because “it looks very one-sided.”

                   Putman responded to Mr. Marks’s comments. “From our standpoint we have been on this issue for a year and a half and have asked the hotels more than once to step up and get totally engaged.”

                   Fred Kleisner, from the Nines Hotel, admits that he may not have been as engaged with this issue prior to the Board meeting but wants to do the right thing. Mr. Kleisner said that he used to be a doorman a long time ago and worked his way up to management over the years. His fear is that by passing the proposal it will create a very negative impact for the doormen who rely on the tips to make a living. “These people are not just doorman, they are individuals who make a world of difference in the community and help to represent the City of Portland.”

                    Butler explained that the Proposal will not prevent customers from tipping out the employees for their services but only prohibits payments from PFHT drivers to the doormen in return for the referral of customers.

                   Mr. Kleisner responded that it is not about referrals or gratuities it is about providing excellent customer service. Maintaining solid relationships with the drivers that have proven to be reliable and good with the customers is what the hotels look for and should not be punished for.

                   Kadir Wako said that “Bribery is illegal all over the world”. Mr. Wako said that the hotels should call company dispatch and not specific drivers. This would help eliminate the possibility of gratuity for referrals and every call would be kept as proof of the reservation. Mr. Wako asked “who would be enforcing the issue?”

                  Butler replied that the Private For-Hire Transportation Division would be primarily enforcing the issue along with Parking Enforcement officers and possibly by Portland Police.

                  

                   Butler said that more specific language would be added to the Code that addresses commissions, and documented referrals made in advance in reference to the tour guide companies and other related services. This language would exclude taxis, executive sedans and shuttles. It would only pertain to commissions made in advance for reservations that are documented and reported for tax purposes.

Motion to approve Version Two of the Proposal along with the additional language to the Code: Case

Seconded: Ochosa

Passed Unanimously

 

 

Motion to move item number 6 to item number 7 and item number 7 to item number 6: Putman

Seconded: Blosser

Passed Unanimously

 

6.     Proposed Shuttle Rules

 

                        Ochosa discussed the Shuttle Proposal. He stated that “we have come to realize that the shuttle industry has unique differences that require special attention to the passengers, and to the needs of the small business owners.” He said that it was also important to address the input from the industry as well as the City and the airport. The final draft Proposal presented at the Board meeting balances the needs and wants of everyone involved in the Shuttle industry. Looking back on the 2009 Shuttle Code language, it was noted that many people were not following the rules as outlined in the Code. As a result of that, it was important to not disrupt the Shuttle Companies currently operating but get them to be in compliance with the Code. On the Proposed draft there are seven different items. The first talks about the designations at the airport where Shuttles will be able to provide “on-demand” and “shared ride” services. Item number two outlines that not only will Shuttles provide the “Shared ride” concept but they will also be able to pick up for reservations at designated areas at the airport. For reservation services, it will be required that reservations are conducted in advance and that “shared ride” trips originate at the airport.  Regulation of rates was also considered in the write up of the Shuttle Proposal. A proposed schedule was discussed where one schedule would be from the airport to downtown or within the City of Portland. The other would be from Portland to the outer Metro areas. The fares would be 35% less than the taxi meter rate which would be compliant with how the Code is currently written. Another requirement would be to make sure that there is appropriate signage and identification on the outside of all shuttle vehicles. Shuttle operators will be required to carry log books similar to other PFHT providers.

                   Dufay pointed out that when we started over two years ago, the shuttle industry consisted of 99 shuttles which most people thought were flooding the industry. We are now down to 21 shuttle companies and 78 shuttle vehicles. The goal was to keep the shuttle industry in business but differentiate them from the taxi service. 

                   Rasheed said that the name should be changed from “Door to door” Shuttles to something else because some might find the name confusing because the shuttles are not going door to door. Maybe “Shuttle Van” or “Shared Ride Van.”

                  Butler suggested taking out “door to door” altogether to avoid confusion.

                   Putman said that a log book requirement should be required in the Code. Putman stated that he doesn’t think that drivers will always wait the full 10 mins for other passenger to use the van. The log is important to keep track of fares as well as emphasize the economic benefit with the shared ride system.

                  Butlerreplied that we will work on adding specific language in administrative rule.

                  Montgomery suggested there be zone indications at the airport that let people know where that particular type of transportation vehicle could take them. This would help avoid refusal of fares by shuttles that cannot take people outside the route and at the same time, push the shared ride system.

                  Butler agreed that there needs to be a schedule available that shows all of the fares for every type of transportation method. We should have the same type of prohibition against refusal of fares for the shuttles that is currently in place for the taxi industry.

                   Mohammed said that we should get more information on the shuttles at the airport and suggested a meeting with the airport managers to discuss the matter.

                  Butler said that “what we are looking for today from the Board is a general approval of program that we have outlined at the end of the proposed solutions. We would take these general ideas and write up some Code language and administrative rule language and bring it back to the Board for final review.”

Motion to request proposed Shuttle Rule with added language for the November 9th meeting:  Jon Putman

Seconded: John Case

 

 

Public Testimony

 

                        Steve Entler, owner of Radio Cab, said that the “door-to-door” Shuttle Service was deliberately left out of the Code write up because the City attorney could not tell the difference between shuttle services and taxi services. The challenge has primarily been to distinctly differentiate the Shuttle industry from the Taxi industry because they act way too similarly. “The original idea was for shuttles to have a point-to-point pick up and there doesn’t seem to be anything that requires that rule.” Mr. Entler stated that “there is something missing with the proposal.”

                   Butler replied that the individuals who were at that Board meeting in 2009 to discuss the Shuttle Code write up not only do not remember what was discussed but the only thing that was changed was the definition of the Code and not the Code itself. This leaves us in a very difficult situation because we allowed the shuttle companies to have permits to operate as permitted PFHT companies. Although there seems to be a thin line between the taxi and shuttle rules, we have tried our best to distinguish the two by only allowing the Shuttles on demand at the airport. It is alright to pick up passengers downtown or anywhere else but you either need a reservation, or a fixed route schedule.

                   Mr. Entler said that it was never the agreement to allow the Shuttles the capability of on demand service from anywhere other than that airport. If Shuttles are allowed to pick up on demand from downtown or anywhere else inside of Portland then they are no different from the taxis.

                   Miles, president and general manager of Broadway Cab stated that both the new and old version of the Shuttle Proposal doesn’t specify whether or not the shuttles have to originate at or have their destination be the airport. Miles suggested dividing the Shuttles originating at the airport to go either east or west and require that the shuttles stay the full ten minutes rather than giving them the option to do so.

                   Mohammed explained that it is the shuttle companies who are struggling because they are primarily relying on the minimal fares from the airport. When there is a big group of people coming into town, or customer with a lot of luggage, the shuttles are the ones to pick up those customers. 

                  Montgomery replied that by allowing the shuttles to have on demand at the airport to downtown, it is taking away the possibility of cheaper rates for the individuals who live in north and northeast Portland.  “The original intent was for the proposal to allow for multiple passengers.”  The shuttles need to be vehicles that hold a large group of people and not minivans or SUV’s that appear to be no different from an executive sedan or taxi.    

                  Butler said that the primary concern is not to put the current shuttle companies out of business. Investments have been made towards creating these shuttle companies and it would be unreasonable and unfair to put them out of business. By having the wait time, ending any on demand service that doesn’t start at the airport, and by adding language that better explains the requirements of the airport rules, it should better distinguish shuttle service from taxi service. 

                   Mr. Entler brought up that the original Code language called for the trips to originate in the City of Portland and required a “Prior Day Arrangement”. This allowed the shuttles enough time to develop a multi stop and pickup schedule. “It was somehow removed later on but it might be a good thing to consider bringing back.”  

Motion to bring back in January, a proposed Shuttle Draft: Putman

There was no second to this Motion

Discussion continued

                   Tesfaye Aleme, owner of Green Cab, said that the problem with only having the shuttles pick up at specific routes eliminates the ability for scheduling pick-ups for weddings, parties etc., that require pick-ups at different locations. At the same time, Mr. Aleme said that “it is important to come up with a solution that allows shuttles to operate in the City of Portland.”

                  Butler replied that operating on demand is a taxi service so the way we have tried to distinuish shuttle service is by only allowing on demand service at the airport. Any other point of pick up would require a reservation.

                   Case stated that he really wants to vote and pass the Proposal. Case asked Mohammed, “On average, how many trips do you take in a day?” “Do you consider your company and the others that you know that operate out of the shuttle airport facility a profitable venture for you?” In other words, do you make money?”

                   Mohammed replied “yes,” and asked, “How do you think the shuttles have survived these past two years if they didn’t make a profit? If the shuttle companies didn’t make money, they would have been out a long time ago.”

                   Case asked if Mohammed felt that the other companies rely on the airport fares as “their primary source for income?”

                   Mohammed answered, “Most of them.” The other 15 to 25% are from reservations outside of the airport.

                  Butler stated that studies showed that most of the shuttle companies said that 60-80% of their business came from the airport and the smaller percentages were from reservations.

                   Case asked, “If there was a law passed that eliminated the ability to take reservations outside the airport, would you still be able to make a living?”    

                   Mohammed said “Yes.”

                   Case said that he thinks it’s a good idea to use the old language of what defines a shuttle company. By allowing the shuttles to operate exclusively at the airport as a shuttle as well as allow shuttles to take reservations as long as it is within Portland limits, “the ordinance isn’t really limiting the Shuttle Companies at all.” Case recommended that we accept the current draft and see how things go for the next few years.

Motion to accept the current draft of the Proposed Revision of Shuttle Rules: Case

Seconded: Huddleson

Opposed: Putman and Wilkes

Motion Carries

 

7.     Request for Delay in Vehicle Age Requirement

 

                   Butler started off by saying that some of the executive sedan drivers and shuttle drivers came to the Standing Committee Meeting to request discussion at the Board and possible delay for the Vehicle Age Requirement. This requirement will take effect on Jan 1st 2012.

                   Mohammed Yassin, a town car driver, said that as soon as the age requirement begins he will comply with the rules but thinks that there will not be enough time to replace all of the older vehicles. If the requirement was extended 2-3 years, everyone would be more prepared to replace of the vehicles. With the economy being down, it has been very difficult and will be even more difficult to purchase and replace the vehicles.

                   Frank Choto, from A Alliance Town Car stated that he does not agree with the age requirement. He said that every year there is an annual renewal requirement from the City. Along with that renewal there are multiple inspections that each vehicle has to go through and pass before getting issued a permit. Mr. Choto stated that “because of the extensiveness of the renewal process and the multiple inspections each vehicle goes through to get passed each year, chronological age should have nothing to do with the quality and condition of the vehicle.”  The annual renewal and inspections should be enough proof to decide the acceptability of that vehicle and not an age requirement. Expecting companies to purchase new vehicles is expensive and unreasonable.

                  Butler replied that recently many cities have been imposing the Vehicle Age Requirement partially as a way to promote higher environmental standards and as a way of getting more aesthetically pleasing vehicles. In recognition of the large financial investment, some other cities have required new and replaced vehicles to follow the age requirement but not for the older vehicles already permitted. 

                   Case said that he doesn’t understand why there is an age difference of 7-10 years for the executive sedan vehicles and the taxis.  Both vehicle types go through the same amount if inspections both cosmetically and mechanically.

                   Mr. Aleme explained that originally taxis had no age limit. Trimet then came up with the age limit of 10 years and 15 years for ADA vehicles.

                   Susan Florentino added that the age requirement was originally done up based on City requirements. The Crown Victoria’s that were purchased for the paratransit service had rigorous maintenance schedules because FTA funding was used. After 5-6 years the vehicles were no longer in good shape despite rigorous maintenance. Operating executive sedans for ten years even with proper maintenance will result in some issues.

                   Miles also added that the original age requirement for executive sedans was purposely made to be less than the taxis and ADA vehicles because the standard of service was considered to be more luxurious and therefore the expectations higher.

                  Butler responded that the purpose of the vehicle age requirement was to make sure that the vehicle was safe, mechanically sound, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. “Given the economic situation, it seems like a valid request to extend the age requirement for a little longer.”

                   Putman said that he strongly disagrees with the age requirement for the ADA vehicles. “Fifteen year old ADA vans are beyond worn out and unsafe.”  He stated that, fifteen years is too long to have these vehicles in service and it is not fair to put customers with special needs in vehicles with seemingly lower standards than the other PFHT vehicles. 

 

Motion to extend the Seven Year Age Requirement for Executive Sedan Vehicles for one year: Montgomery

Seconded: Corona  

Motion does not carry

Motion to vote the Vehicle Age Requirement for Executive Sedans to be the same for Taxis: Case

Seconded: Putman

In Favor: 6 Votes

Opposed: 3 Votes

Motion Carries

                       

8.     Replacement Cameras

 

                        Butler said that the current camera model that we are looking a purchasing is $780.00 per camera. This includes a trade-in allowance of $140.00 in exchange for the cameras that are eight years old. The plan is to go forward with a proposal for sole source contract. The proposal will say that we would like to pursue the sole source contract because it is a very good deal and the cameras have the quality that we are looking for. It is then posted on the web so that any company that may have been overlooked would have an opportunity to bid. There will also be information sent out to the companies who may potentially bid on a contract for these or similar cameras. The contract would be funded at least in part through the money that is currently in the Safety Fund.

                   Wilkes asked if “we were going to go back to having a Safety Fund?”  

                  Butler replied that the Board has to discuss whether or not they want to implement a funding mechanism of a surcharge to the taxi fare and potentially the shuttle fares.

                   Wilkes said that the money from driver permits needs to go into the Safety Fund because the original intention for raising the prices on permits was to have money for the safety of the drivers. Wilkes asked to reinstate the permit money to go back into the Safety Fund.

9.     Future Agenda Items

  1. Safety Fund Issue
  2. Clarify definition of exemption for Ambulance Companies providing stretcher car services. (Trimet)
  3. Exemption for out of area transportation providers (Trimet)
  4. Insurance Rating Requirements (Trimet)
  5. Age of ADA vehicles

 

10.     Adjournment

 

Motion to adjourn: Putman

Seconded: Case

Passed Unanimously

Meeting was adjourned at approximately 4:35pm.  The next meeting will be on Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 at 1:30pm.

Minutes submitted by: 

Lauren Wolfe

Regulatory Program Specialist

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