Operators will need city-issued license after years of reciprocity

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Al Wakefield, owner of Willamette Valley Yellow Cab, asked the city to suspend its ordinance requiring taxi drivers to pay for an additional license to operate in Keizer at the Keizer City Council meeting Monday, April 17.

Wakefield was, in part, responding to a letter he and a half-dozen other local vehicle-for-hire companies received in March requesting compliance with local ordinance. The move is a shift in longstanding policy that has allowed drivers with a Salem-issued license to operate in Keizer.

With a new city emphasis on enforcement, drivers operating in Keizer would need to pay a $50 application fee and $35 in annual fees to continue picking up and dropping off in Keizer.

“One of our issues right now is that there are several (legislative) bills about ridesharing controls, taking all services out of the hands of the city and placing them in the hands of the state. While we are waiting, I am asking for a suspension of your ordinance,” Wakefield said.

The letter sent by the city urged companies to take action by May 1 or face disciplinary action. Wakefield was the only company owner to respond privately or publicly, said Nate Brown, Keizer Community Development Director.

Wakefield said only a handful of daily calls for Willamette Valley Yellow Cabs originate in Keizer, but that the company participates in non-emergency medical transportation which sometimes includes Keizer residents.

“That being said, if I had to ask my drivers to come in and pay $50 apiece to do pick-ups here, no one would come in,” Wakefield said.

Until recently, Keizer had honored taxi licenses issued in Salem, but Brown said the development department was recently approached by a single operator who wanted to get his license in Keizer and have Salem honor it. The Keizer license is cheaper.

It ended up being the only Keizer taxi license issued since the adoption of the ordinance covering vehicle-for-hire operators in 1994.

“The city manager before Chris Eppley directed staff to simply honor the Salem licenses,” Brown said.

However, with the rapid expansion of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, there is now more money on the table.

In the case of Willamette Valley Yellow Cab, Wakefield said he employs about 70 drivers. If each of those drivers had to pay for an additional license, Keizer would see revenues climb about $6,000 in the first year. After the initial licensing, the amount would drop to about $2,500 annually.

That may seem like a drop in an oversized bucket, but consider this: for the 2017-18 fiscal year, city staff are projecting a budget increase of only about $30,000 after making a substantial payment to help cover Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) costs.

“The issue has been elevated with the questions about Uber and Lyft, but there is still some disagreement over how to proceed among the leadership at the city,” Brown said after the meeting.

Keizer ordinances would have to be modified to permit ridesharing services. The City of Salem is already working on plans to do so.

At the city council meeting, Mayor Cathy Clark requested city staff develop a report on how the city has handled taxi licensing in the past and a look at potential options for the next steps.

“I would like to look at the impact on a business with a large number of drivers and how (the current ordinance) meets Keizer’s needs,” she said.