Lyft Lobbying to Keep Cities from Governing Themselves

Portland’s mayor and transportation commissioner have blasted Lyft for lobbying the State of Oregon to prevent Portland from regulating to manage the impacts of Uber and Lyft on the city.  Their scathing letter to Lyft’s Chief Policy Officer Anthony Foxx (former Charlotte Mayor and USDOT secretary) is worth reading in its entirety.  It’s copied in full below.

The principle here is clear:  Dense cities have unique problems that arise from the shortage of space per person, which is what density is.  When state governments led by suburban and rural areas overrule dense cities, they are demanding that dense cities be governed as though they were country towns.  It’s not a cultural problem or an ideological problem.  It’s a geometry problem.  

Outer suburban and rural areas don’t experience a severe shortage of space on streets, so it’s understandable that they see Uber and Lyft mostly as great companies offering a great product.  Only dense cities experience the severe downside: increased vehicle trips due to repositioning movements from one job to the next, and a shift of customers into cars from more sustainable modes like transit, walking and cycling.

Only dense cities understand the problems of dense cities.  They have to be able to act to address those problems.

Here’s the full text of the letter from Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly:

February 4, 2019


The Honorable Anthony Foxx

Chief Policy Officer and Senior Advisor


185 Berry St., Suite 5000

San Francisco, CA 94107


Mr. Foxx,

In 2015, the City of Portland, Oregon established an innovative pilot program to evaluate whether Transportation Network Companies (TNC) should be added to Portland’s existing private for-hire transportation system. In taking this approach, we wanted to give Portlanders access to a new transportation option while ensuring that TNCs served all Portlanders safely, fairly and reliably.

As one of the two TNCs to take part in the pilot, Lyft was a model participant. When issues or concerns arose, Lyft worked closely with the City of Portland to resolve them. This collaborative spirit was one of the primary reasons why our City Council decided to make TNCs permanent in January 2016. In the ensuing three years, Lyft was a good corporate citizen, including promptly paying over $52,000 in fines after failing to properly track the number of drivers on your platform, and worked closely with the City to deliver a convenient, safe transportation option.

Until now.

We have been dismayed to learn that Lyft is behind the effort to pass a bill to eliminate local consumer, safety and disability-access protections for people who use Lyft and other TNCs. If your lobbying efforts were to succeed, Portland would no longer be able to manage our transportation system to best support the mobility, safety, accessibility, sustainability, and equity needs of our City.

To be frank, we are puzzled by this. After all, you were a mayor and certainly appreciate the important role that cities have in managing their transportation systems. In addition, when you were appointed to your position at Lyft, you noted that, “Lyft has led the industry with its collaborative approach to working with regulators….”  As a company, Lyft has committed to bold sustainability goals and to creating a world designed for people, not cars. Finally, when Lyft co-Founder and President John Zimmer visited Portland last year, he reinforced these values and his interest in working with cities on transportation innovation, whether by car, bike, or scooter.

Your current efforts to avoid local consumer protections and skirt policies that ensure that TNC rides are safe for all passengers and accessible to people with disabilities run completely contrary to your stated positions and the positions of the company you represent.

Specifically, the bill Lyft has proposed and is attempting to pass would eliminate the ability of every Oregon city from taking the following common sense steps to protect TNC passengers:

  • Requiring thorough background checks for TNC drivers and mandating that Lyft and other TNCs ban drivers who pose a danger to the public.
  • Prohibiting companies from charging passengers with disabilities higher prices during busy times.
  • Conducting field safety audits to ensure that vehicles are reliable and do not pose a danger to passengers.
  • Requiring that Lyft and other TNCs do not discriminate against passengers based on their race, ethnicity, religion and other factors.
  • Conducting spot checks to verify that drivers are who they say they are.
  • Adopting regulations to provide better service for people with disabilities and low-income people.
  • Issuing permits to make sure that Lyft and other TNCs follow the law.
  • Creating programs to investigate when Lyft and other TNCs provide poor service.
  • Penalizing companies and drivers when they endanger, discriminate against or otherwise fail to provide safe, fair and reliable service to passengers.
  • Adopting regulations aimed at supporting drivers and consumers, including establishing insurance minimums.
  • Collecting local data, which is critical for understanding congestion and climate impacts.
  • Charging local fees necessary to maintain the consumer protections that have been established.
  • Establishing related programs and policies that advance safety and mobility goals.

In Portland, we have successfully protected the health and safety of private-for-hire passengers for over a century. We firmly believe that local governments are best positioned to provide oversight and management of their transportation systems and to ensure that safety, equity and sustainability goals and commitments are met. This has never been truer than with the emergence and rapid growth of the TNC industry. This proposed legislation is contrary to this bedrock philosophy that the best oversight of the transportation system and the private-for-hire industry is local.  Not only that, but it is a disservice to passengers, drivers and the general public who expect safe and reliable service and who are expecting you to stand by your sustainability and community commitments.

We look forward to a modification in Lyft’s position on this Oregon legislation.



Ted Wheeler,  Mayor

Chloe Eudaly, Commissioner of Transportation

8 Responses to Lyft Lobbying to Keep Cities from Governing Themselves

  1. Max Wyss February 5, 2019 at 10:41 am #

    Would it be possible for the city of Portland to rescind the decision to make TNCs “permanent”? If so, who would have to do that, and how good would the chances be?

  2. Pete February 5, 2019 at 1:51 pm #

    Transport for London has had similar issues with Uber.

    In the UK TNCs are treated as any other private hire company and each local authority has their own licensing laws to manage and regulate the things listed in the Portland letter.

  3. asdf2 February 6, 2019 at 12:08 am #

    I think the idea of what Lyft is trying to do as avoid a patchwork of regulation where drivers have to apply for 10 different licenses with 10 different cities, each of which has similar but slightly different rules, and get their car inspected 10 times by each of the 10 different city’s inspectors, and pay 10 different licensing fees. Uniform statewide regulation cuts through this red tape, and makes life easier on the drivers.

    Or worse, whenever a passenger takes a driver to a destination outside their licensed area, having to drive tens of mile empty before being allowed to pick up another passenger.

    In principle, there is no reason why all of the issues outlined in the letter from Portland can’t be adaquately addressed on the state level. Most of these don’t even really relate to geometry. Whether you’re in an urban area or a rural area, taxi drivers still need to undergo background checks, and their cars still need to be inspected to make sure they’re safe.

    “Geometry” concerns would argue in favor of local control to, say, require users to pay a special tax when arriving or departing a city-defined “congestion zone” during peak travel times. This seems entirely reasonable. But, requiring every driver to apply for 10 different licenses and get their car inspected 10 different times, with very-similar-but-slightly-different standards feels like unnecessary red tape that could be improved.

  4. Monica Carmona February 6, 2019 at 4:23 am #

    Lyft and Uber are the root of all evil.
    Their greed is ridiculous.
    Drivers struggle to make a living,.
    They need to be regulated by all citys.
    Drivers do all the HEAVY LIFTING, while they laugh all the way to the bank.

  5. david vartanoff February 6, 2019 at 10:50 am #

    The THCs need to be forced to pay a living wage, benefits etc. or outlawed completely.

  6. Scott Beyer February 7, 2019 at 1:27 pm #

    I don’t think it’s right for you to make absolutist statements about the “geometry” of cities, as you often do.

    There are various technological advancements in the pipeline that could greatly increase the throughput of existing road networks. The most obvious one is road pricing, including dynamically-priced dropoff zones, which would lessen the need for Uber & Lyft drivers to double-park, or cause congestion in other ways.

    • Bob February 13, 2019 at 7:58 pm #

      Those throughput improvements don’t compare to the throughput of mass transit for passenger capacity and maximum size of right of way.

  7. Georgist economist February 19, 2019 at 4:43 am #

    You are right about the geometry problems, but the mayor and transportation commissioner don’t mention these issues at all in the letter. On the other hand, they seem to hit all the wrong notes. Specifically, the list of abilities they don’t want to give up include:
    – More safety than the public reveals preference for (do people inspect their own cars as thoroughly as is demanded from TNCs? do they conduct background checks for, or check the identities of, say, movers?)
    – Mandate inefficient (“low-ridership”) deployment of service, explicitly during the peak, without compensation(!). If I understand correctly, you are frustrated when an affluent suburb lobbies for coverage service they don’t need. Now imagine you also had your own money on the line; you would have every reason to be livid. (In fact, several bullet points are different variants of allocating service to predictably low-ridership uses.)
    – “Issuing permits to make sure that Lyft and other TNCs follow the law.” The letter already mentions a case where Lyft was caught breaking the law, and paid the fine. Consequently, further licensing must not be about protecting the public from lawless taxis, but something else (for example, shielding classical taxis from competition, or perhaps an instinct to regulate everything, even things that take care of themselves just fine).
    – “Creating programs to investigate when Lyft and other TNCs provide poor service.” The companies themselves notice if they provide poor service, as their passenger numbers fall. And since they make their money from ridership, they go ahead and correct the problem, if it is of their own doing.
    – “Penalizing companies and drivers when they endanger, discriminate against or otherwise fail to provide safe, fair and reliable service to passengers.” The passengers can already report bad drivers on their app, because it is in the companies’ own interest to reject bad drivers.
    – “Charging local fees necessary to maintain the consumer protections that have been established.” This is wonderful, because Portland has no incentive to control costs; they can just increase Lyft fares to pay for it. Imagine they told you “redesign the network, because we hiked fares to cover a budget cut”.