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March 28, 2012: PFHT Board Meeting Minutes

City of Portland Revenue Bureau Regulatory Division

PRIVATE FOR-HIRE TRANSPORTATION

BOARD OF REVIEW

Minutes for March 28, 2012

Call to Order: Approximately 1:35pm

Roll Call

Present: Veronica Rinard, Jon Putman, Ryan Hashagan, John Case, Kirk Foster, Tesfaye Aleme, Red Diamond, Muzafar Rasheed, Ramon Corona, Gail Bauhs, Tony Tabrizi, Al Ochosa, Kathleen Butler, Frank Dufay, Lauren Wolfe, Ken McGair, and Patrick Kramer.

Absent: Michael Huggins

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

 

1.     Agenda

 

Motion to add Approval of Minutes to the Agenda: UNKNOWN

Seconded by: Putman

No Discussion

Passed Unanimously

2.     Approval of Minutes from February 22, 2012 Board Meeting

 

Motion to approve minutes with suggested revisions: Bauhs

Seconded by: Aleme

No Discussion

Passed Unanimously

  

3.     Proposed Code Revision: Increase of Fines for Safety Related Code Violations

 

The proposed code revisions that will be discussed today will raise penalty amounts for all safety and potentially safety related violations of City Code.  In addition, it would make operating an unpermitted for-hire transportation vehicle in Portland a criminal offense punishable by arrest and impoundment of the vehicle being used. Butler then read the proposed code revision.  We have increased our enforcement efforts issuing an increased amount of civil penalties for code violations; have increased the time we spend in enforcement after hours and have a plan in place to hire someone who can consistently work enforcement after hours.  We’ve been arguing for a long time that a key enforcement tool is having the authority to tow illegally operating vehicles.  In working with the City Attorney’s Office to obtain this authority we found that there were legal issues in impounding a vehicle without a criminal violation occurring.  There are many other cities that tow unpermitted vehicles.  These cities have made it a criminal offense in order to have that authority.  We are of the opinion that the potential safety risks warrant the police to be able to take immediate action against unpermitted operators.  We’ve also raised the civil penalties that are potentially or directly related to public safety.It is time to take the next step in enforcement and that is to make it a criminal offense.

Board Member Discussion for this agenda item

Ochosa: Appreciate the Revenue Bureau bringing this forward in the interest of public safety.

 

Bauhs: Possible out of area exemption discussed previously discussed, concern that if these exemptions not in the code yet, it would criminalize activities of out of area providers, potentially bringing criminal charges against these providers.  Bauhs is referring to providers who meet all State of Oregon regulations who occasionally take passengers from rural or out of area towns into Portland medical facilities for treatments and back. Butler replied that no one is currently being issued penalties for this activity and she does not anticipate these code revisions to affect these providers. 

Butler hears the concern but replies that we are clear on the exemptions, know who they are. Butler did try to add some items to these revisions but from internal discussions it was determined that the best course of action is to specifically address this issue and move the other code revision forward after. 

Bauhs said that she met with the providers today and they were concerned that even though your intention would be to exclude them that it is in the books and they still potentially could be arrested. 

Butler stated that while she appreciates their concern, it currently is not a criminal offense to violate City Code.  The proposed code revisions would simply make it a type of criminal offense that would enable the vehicle to also be impounded and the offender to be arrested.  The activity they are currently doing without hesitation is a criminal offense now.  Would it be helpful if we put forward a written policy or Administrative Rule to address their concerns?

Bauhs stated the fact that they can be arrested is very different than a monetary penalty.  If providers decide to cease providing this service, it will land on Tri Met and their transportation providers and their system does not have the volume to accommodate the increased volume.  Bauhs suggested attaching the out of area exclusions as part of this code revision. 

Butler replied that the entire proposed code revision package could be help up for any particular revision.  If we only put this one revision in that is not likely to be arguable, then we are assured the best chance of moving this critical code addition forward. There are multiple layers to any process being brought forward to counsel that takes time. In the meantime we must be able to maintain Code enforcement and if the exemptions become an issue and causes further delay, then we must move forward and take the current language to counsel.  

Putman: Disagrees that the current Code language should be rushed without further consideration.

Tabrizi: Agrees with the current language and stated that the more exemptions that we add to the language, the more loopholes will be created along the way.

Foster: Agrees with more enforcement but is concerned with jail time and budget cuts playing a negative role with the already overpopulated jail cells.

Butler replied that the jail time would not always be necessary and is simply a common addition to any Code language when bringing forward a criminal offense or misdemeanor. The key factor with this addition is to allow the police to take action and get remove the person and/or vehicle off of the street.

Rinard: Asked why higher penalties and fines are considered more effective than suspensions and permit revocations?

Butlerreplied that there was a mistake in the previous penalty table. In most penalty tables, the second and third offense will show a fine along with a suspension or revocation of the permit while our current penalty table only allows for one or the other. At the top of the penalty table, it says, “In addition to the civil penalty, and the suspension and revocation provisions in Subsection 16.40.550, any second offense is grounds  for suspension of the permit and any third or subsequent offense is grounds for revocation of the permit.” In other words, when someone reaches a second or third offense we want to not only have the ability to suspend the permit, but to issue financial penalties as well.

Ochosa: Why 16.40.400 was crossed out with nothing replacing those previous penalties?

Butler replied that there was never any Code written in that section but may relate to the SAT ID, which is the signage requirement for the SAT vehicles.

Hashagan: Who decides whether it is going to be a civil or criminal conviction?

Butler replied that it will usually depend on the seriousness and/or circumstances of the offense. Every penalty decision can fluctuate depending on a number or different factors. If a company has had more than one offense, the penalty can be raised to the amount shown on the table. If evidence is prevented that proves that a particular provider was not in violation in some way then the penalty can be at the lower end.

Diamond: Expressed his support for the Code changes. Diamond stated his concern about the inability to switch cabs in and out using the same taxi plate. He mentioned that other drivers have also been concerned and in some cases have been prevented from working because of this rule.

Butler replied that the main thing that the driver had to do is bring in the proper paperwork for the vehicle that they are switching and after the replacement vehicle gets inspected by us, then it will be able to operate.

Foster: Went back to what Bauhs had discussed earlier about the concern for the medical transportation providers being able to operate without violating the Code. The majority of the clients that his company picks up and require wheelchair vehicles are extremely fragile. The well being and safety of the passenger needs to be considered especially with the elderly and disabled. If the companies and brokerages that are based outside ofPortlandhave clients that they drop off but they cannot pick up, then it is up to Tri-Met to find someone who can and it may take hours. This significantly impacts the health and welfare of the clients. This can be solved by redefining the current Code to say that if there is a medical transportation contract, then a round trip counts as one trip.

Butler answered that part of the problem is that the companies that do have a permit, do not want to refer trips to companies that are operating outside ofPortlandand have no City permit. We are constantly getting complaints about illegal operators and the primary reason for sending the proposal to counsel is to up our enforcement which has become a huge issue. We have not issued a single enforcement penalty to any of the current companies and will continue to do so. The language that exempts these companies will be brought forward as soon as possible.

Aleme: Briefly reiterated the importance of sending the Code to counsel but also emphasized the importance of the exemption for some of the SAT providers.

Butler said that she would try to get the exemption language in with the rest of the Code addition but sometimes when you get to the counsel level, the more language is added; the more difficult it is to pass.

Bauhs added that the exemption and Code proposal go hand in hand.

Ochosa: Asked if we would consider raising the penalty for violating insurance requirements? In other words, issue in the highest level of penalties ($5,000, $10,000 and $15,000) to those violators (16.40.410 A to E on the penalty schedule). Insurance directly relates to the safely of the passengers.       

Butler said that we have the ability to lower the fines if necessary if they were raised to the highest penalty level.

Hashagan: Asked about the Pedicab penalty table.

Butler replied that we will have more time in future meetings to discuss Pedicab penalties.

Hashagan asked if the table is entirely criminally based.

Butler replied that only subsections 16.40.090 A -130, 150, 190 A, and 190 B are criminal violations and the rest are civil level.

Case: Asked Bauhs, how many medical providers would be impacted if the Code was passed without the exemption language?

Bauhs answered that there are probably about between 150 and 200 across the state including the companies in our area.

Case added that he is very concerned that the Code change would greatly affect the outside providers. Until the exemption is added into the Code, is it possible to create an exemption “decal” that could be sent to every providers that qualifies under the exemption? The decal can be a temporary pass for these providers that would protect them against police enforcement until the exemption language is added to the Code.

Butler repeated that no police officer will stop an SAT vehicle. The police enforcement will be geared towards, taxi’s, executive sedans, town cars and limousines.

Bauhs agrees with need for some kind of decal to give to the providers. “It makes the providers feel okay about operating”.

Butler said that we may be able to come up a list of the providers that fall under the exemption category that can be dispersed right away.

Public Comment:

Ronald from Green Cab asked, “What would happen if the metro areas outside of Portland came up with a similar enforcement Code as Portland and wouldn’t allow Portland permitted drivers to operate in their areas. How would the City respond?”

Butler replied that the enforcement methods are already written in the Code. Companies based outside of Portland and who do not have Portland permits cannot pick up within City boundaries. All we are doing is making the penalties more severe. Some companies based outside of Portland have also said that they do not want Portland taxi’s operating within their surrounding areas as well.

Siat Polos, owner of Yellow Cab, stated that he has read the requirements for obtaining PFHT permit and even though his company is well qualified to get a permit, it seemed nearly impossible because of the moratorium. He is concerned about knowing exactly where the boundary dividing lines are. Knowing the parameters is important. He said that he has a fleet that operates in Tigard with the area Code, 97224. There are Portland addresses within the Tigard area and his drivers get hassled there. Another issue is that his company loses business opportunities in the SW suburbs because they cannot fully make round trips if they want to go into Portland areas. His wants his clients to be satisfied and serviced and he cannot always do that. As a result, he loses money and clients.

Butler said that she is aware of the boarder issues and the best solution is to get a map from the bureau of transportation that clearly defines and shows what the legal boarders are. Butler said that she understands that it is not always good for businesses in the surrounding areas. There may be room for a wider permitting solution sometime in the future. Butler said that if his drivers are getting hassled, he should report it to us immediately.

Motion by Diamond, seconded by Foster, to endorse bringing these changes forward quickly to Council, with a recommendation for Council approval, with the amendment suggested by Bauhs to include at the same time a process for special permitting and procedures, included permit cards, for those providers under contract with non-contiguous medical brokerages under contract with the Oregon Health Authority. These special permit cards are available only for round trip service from distant areas to and from Portland health care facilities. Also discussed was a suggestion by Putman to try to bring forward to Council at the same time the improved vehicle age limits for wheelchair accessible vehicles, as previously affirmed by the Board. 

 

4.     Board Discussion: Taxi Driver Labor Market Review

Butler briefly reintroduced the Taxi Driver Labor Market Review. Under a series of five workshops, many of the Board members and general public attended and discussed topics in relation to the study on a detailed level. A summary of feedback from those work sessions is still being gathered for review by the Board.  That being the case, we would like to take this opportunity to get Board suggestions and take some comment from the public to the full Board since not all Board members were able to be present for all the work sessions.

Case: Veronica Rinard touched on how the taxi drivers are perceived by the visitors of our city in relation to English proficiency.  Veronica said that Travel Portland’s interest is in the overall visitor’s experience and the drivers need to be able to communicate with their passengers about where they need to go.  Visitor experience can be further enhanced if they are able to have additional conversations with the driver.  Many times this will give the visitor more ideas on where to go and what to see while they are in town.  Another issue is the drivers need to know where things are.  Some of the hotels in Portland have ESL training programs.  She offered to look into those currently existing or if they can be created. 

Butler explained that the drivers are hopeful that their issues are being heard, are in the forefront of Board discussions, and are happy to have dialogue with City Officials.  When training is brought up with the drivers, driver training by the City is usually looked upon favorably by the drivers.

Huggins said that most of the travelers from the airport are headed to a hotel and the drivers usually know where to go.  However, he did say that he understands how that could be an issue for other destinations when they do not have a fixed route or GPS to tell them where to go.

Al Ochosa:  Was only able to attend work session about benefits and health insurance.  Many of the drivers like the independence and ability to working when they want.  If there is something that the Board can look into as far as the amount of kitty the driver needs to pay and maybe mandate two shifts for every cab, cutting the max hours for a driver to 12 a day and maximizing the utilization of the permit. 

Butler stated that some cities require city approval for any fees charged to the drivers.  One issue to a kitty reduction is that the small companies might be negatively impacted more than the larger companies because the kitty is their main source of income.  Permit utilization is also an issue to address.

Ochosa stated that, the fines being issued by the companies is another issue. 

Butler replied that the City feels it should be the only one issuing the fines and that there is an appeal process for our fines which many drivers expressed interest in.

Ochosa thought that fines collected from the drivers can be put in a separate fund for the drivers.

Tabrizi: Said that if the drivers pass the skills test, then that should show their ability to speak English. His concern lies with the drivers talking too much with the passengers while driving. Customer service is important but safety is even more important.

Butler replied that having in-house training is not to make things more difficult for the drivers but would allow them more resources to improve their business. There are some drivers who do need the extra training to be able to communicate to their customers but it should be available to everyone.

Rinard: The drivers are the ambassadors of our city. If we all work together to make it a positive experience for the customers and tourists, then those people will want to come back and with that we can build a solid representation of Portland.

Case: Asked Aleme if all of his company vehicles are driver owned or does Green Cab own some of the vehicles? Are the vehicles on a two shift schedule?

Aleme answered that they are all driver owned. He said that he has asked the drivers to use a spare driver or two with one vehicle but some of the drivers do not want to share their vehicle. We cannot force them to have a spare driver if they own and manage the vehicle. The company can only make sure the driver is qualified to drive and has the proper permits.

Case replied that there seems to be a safety issue with that because if a single driver can work a fourteen hour shift, is probably not as able to drive at the end of that shift compared to the driver that is working a twelve hour shift.

Aleme: Agrees that most drivers who work a fourteen hour shift will be tired but the problem is that we really don’t have the ability to control how much the driver works in a 24 hour period. He said that he knows of some drivers who will start early in the morning, work fourteen hours, come home and rest for four hours and then go back to work. The company requires a log sheet from each driver at the end of every shift that shows how long they worked and where they went. The accuracy of the log sheets cannot be questioned because the drivers are independent contractors.

Case agrees with why some drivers may not want to allow someone they do not know to drive their vehicle. However, the equipment seems to be underutilized with the independent contractor operators. This converts itself into lack of coverage. If the law were to change from 14 hours back to 12 hours then it may allow the drivers to find a suitable representative to drive the second shift and may help pay for expenses such as the kitty. If the primary driver and owner of the vehicle were given a choice of who may drive their vehicle and the two worked together, then it seems that not only would it allow the primary drivers to work less hours and make more money, but it would also allow more opportunity to drivers who also want to make a living.   

Corona: Said that if you have a vehicle owned by one person and they do not want to share it with anyone else for fear that they may damage the vehicle, they may subcontract the vehicle out legally so that both are protected. If both drivers are protected, then it seems more likely that the vehicle owner would allow another driver to share the vehicle with them.

Aleme said that the company protects the drivers who owns the vehicle as well as the spare driver because if the spare driver drives and tries to run away without paying anything, then the company would no longer allow the driver to share a vehicle. The concern is that the driver cannot be told to share the vehicle in the first place.

Butler added that part of what Regulatory is looking for is some type of rule that suggest splitting shifts or change the time from fourteen hours to less. We can look at creating regulation or creating incentive and we are committed to intervene in some way. For example, we could say to a company that they could charge a $200.00 or $300.00 kitty for every twelve hour slot which would enable the smaller companies to the income that they need to continue to move forward and develop their business. Whereas is we said to the companies now that the cap is at $500.00, and they only have one driver, then that may have more of a negative impact. It is important to create a balance for both the companies and the drivers that benefit everyone.

Foster: The biggest problem seems to be that there is an inefficient relationship between the drivers and some of the taxi companies. The first step is for the city to make it mandatory that the drivers be covered under the insurance policies.

Butler answered that a requirement for accident insurance is something that we plan to move forward as soon as possible.

Forster added that the only people who really know about the relationship are the drivers and the companies. It is not a good idea for the city to make and enforce regulations when there is not only lack the resources available to support but also the understanding of how to make the rules that makes sense and benefits the industry as a whole. The only way to improve the current system is to force the companies to meet the driver half way. The city can help by making the companies post all of their fines and fees. To create an overall balance, the city needs to issue the permits to the drivers. If the drivers had control of the vehicle permits, it might force the companies to work more with the drivers. Foster expressed that he doesn’t think that adding more permits would benefit the industry but flood it. By increasing enforcement on illegal operators and company management, it would make the most positive change to the taxi industry.

Diamond: Agrees with Foster. Went back to the language issue and said that the problem is that sometimes language proficiently is a matter of perception. He gave an example of passengers who walk pass the first two cabs ahead and get into his cab instead because he has the appearance of being an American who can speak English.

Diamond expressed his concern for the 24 hour shifts by saying that Portland does not have the economic resources to have 382 taxis out on the streets for 24 hours a day. More permits and availability in the city does not necessarily equate with more business. Diamond repeated from previous discussions that giving the drivers the vehicle permits is an essential factor. It would elevate the working conditions and force the companies to compete against each other. The permits would be earned based on economic performance rather than have be allocated by the city. This would encourage a healthy and competitive market. The idea that the companies have money invested in the vehicle permits is untrue. Permits are owned by the city and not the companies so therefore there should be no money invested in the first place. The drivers have more invested in the permits than the companies because the drivers own the vehicles and pay for all of the required maintenance. Their lives and families lives depend on them making a living.

Bauhs: Asked if the skills test was given in writing form or verbally.

Butler replied that it is in written form electronically. If someone has difficulty reading the test, then someone may read the questions to the driver. They must be able to speak and understand English but do not need to be able to read or write English.

Bauhs added that if the drivers need to be able to communicate with the customers and the skills test is in written form then it doesn’t seem to measure what they would like and require the drivers to achieve.

Butler said that the in-house training will be an important addition and will be verbally based.

Bauhs: Expressed her concern about giving the vehicle permits to the drivers by saying that if the drivers have the ability to move around then it will prevent the companies who may have contract with other transportation providers from giving them the service that they may demand.

Butler replied that it is not only a problem for the companies who are contracting but it is a problem for all of the companies.

Aleme: Agrees with Bauhs and if there is no permit then there is no investment. Not all of the companies have the same number of permits and therefore the competition is unequal. The smaller companies end up suffering and possibly fail as a result. If all companies have equal number of permits then there would be more competition.

Butler responded that in other cities they have tried to create more of a balance in the industry order to making every company have a certain maximum number of vehicle permits that every company must reach.

Putman: Suggested that we should limit the amount of time an individual driver stays with a specific company. The insurance regulations and standards needs to be solved first and foremost. One possible solution might be a Special District Insurance plan or an umbrella policy that each of the cab company would be required to oversee and regulate. This should lower the overall cost for insurance for each company and help to reduce driver fees.

Foster: This issue only applies for taxi companies. As the companies treat the drivers well, then the amount of time that a driver stays with a company shouldn’t be a concern.

Aleme added that no matter what, if the drivers are issued the vehicle permits then unintended consequences are possible.

5.     Public Comment

 

Kadir Wako summarized the last seven Taxi Labor Market study meetings and spoke about Union Cab. He said that there is finally an opportunity to allow equality and fairness among the taxi driver industry. Every vehicle will be split into two shifts (day and night). Every driver will have full medical coverage and everyone is and required to be an experienced driver. Union Cab will create more jobs, better customer service etc. It is important to change the lives of the drivers and community who have been suffering for too many years.  Hopefully the City will finally do the right thing and change things for every taxi driver working in the City ofPortland.

Wolday Kassa, driver for Broadway Cab, said that drivers used to be required to take a customer service class at the airport but the Port stopped requiring it. He said that it was a good thing for the drivers. There are hundreds of drivers who are not able to work and issuing 50 permits to Union Cab is not going to solve that problem.

Robel from Union Cab said that the Yellow Cab used to charge $700.00 per week for the kitty and as soon as more permits were issued, they dropped it to $240.00. This empowers the drivers because change is happening.

Brenda Hiatt, a driver from Broadway Cab said that the release of the taxi driver study has given drivers hope for the first time in a long time and the drivers need a hero. Some of the taxi companies are treating the drivers poorly because they have the ability to choose and lose whoever they want while others do it because they are fighting to compete with the larger companies. Current conditions force drivers to work as slaves to make up the weekly kitty. Extreme working conditions such as long hours, directly correlates with accidents and poor driving. Accident insurance and a putting a cap on the kitty are important to consider. Companies also need to communicate with the drivers about rules and regulations and where fees and fines are coming from. This is the time for action and change and the drivers are counting on the Board to make a real and much needed change.

Ahmed, a driver for Broadway cab, agrees with Ms. Hiatt’s statement and adds that not only do the drivers pay a very high kitty but the companies force drivers to pay hidden fees that they do not explain and it is not right.

Eigal from New Rose City Cab said that he wants more training with driving relating to customer service and ways to handle difficult situations. He said that the drivers are the ambassadors of the city and rather than issue the companies more permits, give the permits to the drivers. Drivers are working more then the limited 14 hours to make it.

Ahmed, a driver for Broadway Cab said that “It is time to reward the drivers”. The drivers have one of the most dangerous jobs in country and are risking their lives every day. It is not just the companies who are at fault but the city is as well. The most important thing for the drivers is a medallion system when it comes to truly rewarding the drivers. The point is to protect the public but when the people who are driving the public and responsible for their safety suffer then problems arise in many different ways. We deserve to be treated fairly and should be rewarded for the work that we do every day.

Graham Trainer, who represents the Oregon Labor Movement, said that they support over 225 workers in the state ofOregonand over 100,000 in the City ofPortland. He said that he supports the Union Cab concept and the driver owned model. The labor movement stands up for all of the workers and not just union workers and has always represented all underrepresented workers.  The taxi driver study gives a chance to the city to live up to its standards and help make a difference for the drivers.

Mohamed, a driver for Broadway cab said that some driver still have the ability to take customer service classes and they do so. Repeated some of the issue expressed before and stressed that the vehicle permits should go to the drivers instead of the companies. For most drivers, customer service and the importance of being a good driver are essential for not only making a living but also with maintaining that clientele because they want the customers to come back.

Raye Miles said that Broadway takes a much more active role then any other company when it comes to following city Code. In the past the City has not fined the drivers directly but fined the companies for the driver violations.

Butlerresponded that she believes that it should be the City’s responsibility for issuing Code violations and not the company.

Jamal, a driver for Broadway Cab says that he hopes for a medallion system. He disagrees with the Union Cab model and thinks that there is no room for more permits.

Olgy is upset that drivers who are against the Union Cab model now, never spoke up in previous meetings. Thinks that it is a little too late for those who are arguing against it and they had their chance to speak up ten years ago.

Abdule, a driver for Broadway cab, said that there are drivers who are not here today that should be but are fearful that they will lose their jobs if they spoke up.

Another driver asked Kathleen if she could briefly talk about where we are with the driver conditions process and permits.

Butler replied that the Regulatory division plans to take all of the petitions and comments that we have received, and put them all together along with the final version of the driver report and then come up with several recommendations. Some of them will be short term and some of them will be long term.  Those recommendations will be discussed with the director of the Revenue Bureau Thomas Lannom, the mayor and commissioners. It will then be brought back for further discussion where the Board will make their own recommendation. The mayor of the City Council will then review the recommendation of the Board and hear any other recommendation from the general public as well. The City Council will ultimately make the final decision.  

 

6.     Board Member Comments

 

Ochosa: Commented that if any of the drivers had any more suggestions or comments about the meeting, they should go to the City of Portland’s website. www.portlandonline.com

 

7.     Schedule of Upcoming Meetings

 

Kathleen concluded that we are doing our best to move these issues along as quickly as possible. It has been a priority to give everyone the opportunity to make comments about these issues and help with basing our final decision.  She said that she understands that these issues are serious and a sensitive for some of the drivers and difficult to come forward. Along with that, it is important to really consider everything that has been presented and not rush things too much to avoid doing the wrong thing. It is important that we have solid evidence to take to City Counsel. Kathleen said that we will continue to work hard to make this happen.

 

8.     Adjournment

 

Motion to adjourn by: Foster      

Seconded by: Putman

 

Passed Unanimously

Next regularly scheduled Board meeting is scheduled for July 25th, 2012 at 1:30pm.

Minutes submitted by: Lauren Wolfe Regulatory Program Specialist & Patrick Kramer Regulatory Program Specialist

 

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