The city of Canby is considering requiring Uber and Lyft drivers to pay the $50 fee required to obtain a business license to operate in the city.
Mayor Brian Hodson said the concern was brought to the city's attention because Canby-based Liberty Cab pay's the $50 business license fee, as well as $400 per month required by the state to transport people, but Uber and Lyft drivers do not have to operate under the same conditions.
"There was some concern about their business model and Uber's business model and the perceived inequality between the two," Hodson said. "We saw that and the (city) staff saw that as looking at how do we level the playing field and how do we keep things equitable. That was our intent with this."
Last October, Canby citizen Jason Anderson started the Liberty Cab company, a 24-hour, locally-based taxi service offering $7-flat fee fares to anywhere in Canby and Aurora — the company also provided service in Tualatin, Wilsonville and Oregon City — for as many as six people per ride. For a while, he said business was booming.
But Anderson says the city debating whether Uber and Lyft drivers should have to purchase a business license is already too late. Anderson said he is selling his cab and going out of business -- he's a U.S. Navy veteran originally from Albany who says he worked for 15 years as a wastewater plant operator in Albany and Canby, and now has a job interview in Eugene with the hope of getting back into his former career.
"When I first started Uber and Lyft were not operating here but now they have a deal where they are running from Longview, Wash. all the way down to Albany," Anderson said. "I'm the only one with a legitimate business who pays business taxes. No one else, the Uber and Lyft drivers, have a business license, insurance or a state tax ID number. Everyone else operates a cash-under-the-table business. There's a half a dozen people with their fingers in the cookie jar, which doesn't leave much for a legitimate business. There's even a guy who runs an underground business who takes people home from Mike's Place, Denny's, the Double Aught Ranch -- people say he's been doing it for years after his son was killed by a drunk driver."
At the June 21 city council meeting, five Canby citizens told the city why they feel it is unfair to require Uber and Lyft drivers to pay $50 for a Canby business license.
Julie Johnson, who Anderson says undercuts Liberty Cab on Facebook page Canby Now by offering cheaper rides, said she's lived in Oregon for six years and has been an Uber driver for about 18 months.
"I'm reaching 800 people that I've transported with Uber," Johnson said. "I have no idea how much I've made but I want to serve Canby because I love it here, and I'm willing to pay the $50 a year for the business license. It's just going to affect the other Uber drivers. They're not going to want to come here to pick up anybody but I don't want to leave anyone stranded so I'm basically forced to have to fork over the $50."
David Ames said he's lived in Canby 30 years and he doesn't consider being an Uber driver a home-based business that should be required to purchase an annual $50 business license.
"No one comes to my house, I have no products in my house I store nothing from Uber in my house," Ames said. "Everything is done over my phone or over email and my own personal car is parked in my driveway."
Ames said he's been driving for Uber for about eight months and that he didn't "go through my phone to do all the calculations" prior to the city council meeting because he doesn't think it really matters how much money he makes. He guessed he earned about $200 during that time.
"So, you'd be asking me to give up 25 percent of what I've earned in eight months," Ames said. "But the people I have picked up I think were important pickups. They were people who would have been driving drunk through town later on in the evening if I didn't take them to their destination. I picked up a young girl once who would have been wandering the streets alone at night about 11 p.m. to get her home."
Kai Kyfel said driving for Uber and Lyft is her full-time job and she's been doing it for about nine months. She says Portland requires drivers to obtain a business license and that should be sufficient to cover the entire metro region.
"If every single city requires us to get a license that's a whole lot of money for all of us," Kyfel said. "I start work at, let's say, 4 a.m. I usually start work then every day and I end work at 9 p.m. Within that time period I can make $100, $150, $200, but like there's good days and bad days. And depending on these days and when we need to get all these licenses from however many cities want us to get them, that's a lot of money already being taken from us because Uber takes a share Lyft takes share.
Shawn Varwig, owner of Judson Roy Home Furnishings and a Canby planning commissioner, also moonlights on weekends as a driver for Uber and Lyft. He said the point the drivers want to make is they would like to see a little more clarification before the $50 requirement is instituted.
"I'd like to have the license clarification on the code because there's a point in there where it talks about exemptions," Varwig said. "If you talk to Uber drivers we believe we fall under that because we don't work more than three consecutive days in one place. We don't work more than 30 days in a calendar year here. I've done it for three months and I've picked up one person in Canby. I made $3.28 working in Canby so I don't want to spend $50 to make $3.28."
City Administrator Rick Robinson said that while the city is evaluating whether to require Uber and Lyft drivers to purchase a $50 annual business license, those operating as drivers will not be required to purchase a license yet.
"We actually have a draft solution kind of crafted and I'll be working on it following more input from the mayor and councilors and will bring it back to council in July or August," Robinson said. "So, the good news is the longer it takes us to bring it back the longer (Uber and Lyft drivers) don't have to worry about it. So, from that perspective it's not a bad outcome either."
Meanwhile, Anderson said he's put his house on the market.
"I'm going to have to move," he said. "I have to get a new job."