The City Council lessened the restrictions on Transportation Network Companies (TNC), such as Uber and Lyft, to operate within the city at Tuesday’s meeting.
Previously, an ordinance was passed to allow the TNCs to operate in the city, but Uber and Lyft did not want to apply for a contract within Ashland because of the city’s limitations.
These limitations — a vehicle inspection requirement and a wheelchair accessible vehicle requirement — will be lifted with the revision of the ordinance if it passes on second reading, which is expected at the council’s next business meeting on Feb. 5.
This doesn’t guarantee that the TNCs will apply to contract with Ashland, but it does provide more incentive for them, according to city Administrator Kelly Madding.
An Uber representative has stated in the past that the company wants Ashland to adopt a regime nearly identical to Medford’s. Although the City Council rejected this idea in the past, they’ve come to a somewhat collective agreement that they need to bend to the TNC’s terms if they want to provide these services for the community.
Councilor Dennis Slattery said he’s not very fond of the way these companies have performed business so far, but he thinks that it’s in the community’s best interest to have this service. He said one of the benefits it provides is the security of safety for tourists and locals alike who may drink downtown and need a ride home.
Councilors Stefani Seffinger and Stephen Jensen agreed that another benefit it provides is access for the disabled and elderly community members.
“When canvasing this year for reelection, one of the things that was often brought up was the need of seniors for this type of service,” Seffinger said. “I do feel that social isolation is a major problem for seniors and while Valley Lift can help in some ways, it stops at 8, I think.”
Councilor Julie Akins echoed these remarks.
“I think it’s time for us to do that, to move into this age,” Akins said. “This is the speed of how things work now.”
Councilors Tonya Graham and Rich Rosenthal were opposed.
Graham moved to amend the motion by suggesting the council wait to deliberate until staff could renegotiate with both companies, particularly Lyft.
Assistant City Attorney Katrina Brown said that Lyft has stated that they may wait to negotiate with Ashland until tourism season begins in the spring/summer.
It was Graham’s idea that perhaps the city could retain the wheelchair accessible vehicle requirement and lose the inspection requirement to get Lyft on board.
“If there is a chance that we can keep the wheelchair accessible vehicle provisions and have one of these companies come into Ashland and provide the services that we want, I would like to see that be the case rather than us throwing out both of these provisions in the hope that one of them (TNC) might come in if given that path,” Graham said.
Slattery said he thinks this would just prolong an inevitable rejection from the companies, and the rest of the council agreed with him.
Rosenthal rejected everything about having TNCs work in Ashland because of the way they’ve negotiated thus far.
“It’s like working with a bully and I think it’s a poor way of doing business,” Rosenthal said. “Ashland doesn’t seem to work in their algorithm.”
In the end, the Council ruled 4-2 in favor of passing the ordinance.
The council also agreed to send a letter of support to the Rogue Valley Transportation District to apply for a grant which would allow them to operate an on-demand service and pilot program study within Ashland.
If the grant is received and the program is established, this service will provide more coverage to the Ashland area and provide an ADA accessible transportation program on-call at the same pricing to residents as already established by RVTD.
According to RVTD Planning and Strategic Programs Manager Paige West, this service would provide data that can’t be obtained from TNC companies.
Deputy Public Works Director Scott Fleury said the grant would allow two vans to provide service within 30 minutes of the scheduled pick-up call.
These vans can access houses above Siskiyou Boulevard which has been a challenge in the past, West said.
In other action, the council approved findings denying appellant's request to reverse approval of a 72-unit apartment project at 188 Garfield St. The two new councilors, Graham and Akins, did not vote on this subject as they were not on the council during the appeal hearing.
Slattery was voted the council chair, meaning he’ll fill in when the mayor is not available.