Port Townsend close to deal with Uber

Change in code would allow rides

PORT TOWNSEND — A draft deal that would allow app-based rideshare company Uber to operate in Port Townsend has received approval from the City Council’s transportation committee.

While City Attorney Heidi Greenwood said the draft operating agreement is largely complete, she could not say when it will be considered for approval by the full City Council.

The committee unanimously approved the draft at its Oct. 21 meeting but asked Greenwood to seek stronger non-discrimination language as well as automatic renewal upon completion of agreement’s one-year term.

Still, the agreement is intended to be temporary until the City Council considers updating its for-hire vehicle business code to address Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs, such as Uber and Lyft, Greenwood said.

“Ultimately, the goal is not to operate in these types of terms but to get the code to be applicable to these companies,” she said. “This is kind of a stop-gap measure until the code can be addressed.”

Greenwood, who came to Port Townsend from Port Angeles in 2018, said the draft agreement between the city and Rasier, LLC, a subsidiary of Uber Technologies, was first considered in 2017 by her predecessor, Steve Gross, after the city informed the company that its drivers would need to apply for city business licenses and pay Business & Occupation taxes.

Uber, which had been operating in the city an unknown period of time, reacted by turning off its app in the city so people in Port Townsend could no longer hail a ride, Greenwood said.

The current draft agreement maintains drivers would still need to satisfy the requirements to obtain a city business license, including a driver’s endorsement, and pay taxes, she said.

“In previous years … they have been very, very unwilling to have their drivers apply for city driving endorsements, for-hire vehicle licenses,” Greenwood said during an August committee discussion of the issue.

“One of their issues in the past was telling cities who their drivers were; they consider that a trade secret. The companies seem to have changed their opinion on that.”

The draft agreement would allow the city to review annually a random sample of the company’s records related to 20 percent of its drivers in the city to verify the company is complying with the agreement.

Members of the city’s transportation committee have said there would be many benefits to having rideshare companies operating in town, especially if it means less drunken driving.

“I personally have seen so many people have a number of drinks and then take their car from downtown and drive off,” Deputy Mayor David Faber said during an August committee discussion.

“I think we occasionally have one or two taxi drivers, and I know it can take over an hour for them to respond if they’re especially busy. I can’t even tell you how often I’ve had friends and strangers alike come up to me, call me, send me emails saying, ‘Hey, we really need these services here.’ ”

Two for-hire driving endorsements are currently active in the city and both belong to Peninsula Taxi of Port Hadlock, according to city records.

Caleb Weaver, a spokesman for Uber, said the company is excited about the possibility of returning.

“Port Townsend is one of the very few remaining cities in Washington where we are not operating,” he said.

Uber and Lyft began operating in Port Angeles during fall 2019 after the City Council updated the city’s code to regulate rideshare companies the same as taxi companies.

Uber, which also operates in Sequim, Forks, Aberdeen, Bremerton, Centralia, Poulsbo and Shelton, first launched in the North Olympic Peninsula region in March 2016.

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Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by phone at 360-417-3509 or by email at [email protected].

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