For more than a decade, Portland issued no new taxi licenses. Then, this spring, blue-and-orange Priuses (and other sparkly late-model rides) burst onto the city’s streets. A closer look at Union Cab’s logo revealed the slogan “Driver Owned.”
Union Cab founder Kedir Wako, 42, emigrated from Ethiopia in 1990, and worked in the design department of a California golf equipment company before moving to Portland. He launched an airport shuttle service that folded, then drove for the venerable Broadway Cab Company.
Like other cab drivers, Wako worked as an independent contractor. To rent his cab, he paid a “kitty” of $580 a week, no matter what, with no allowances for sick time. Three years ago, he began meeting with other drivers. “It was very political,” Wako says. “We would park a street away from where we were meeting.” The mavericks decided to form their own company, which won city council approval for its 50 new licenses last November. Union Cab drivers pay a smaller kitty ($308) to drive the company’s cabs, and elect an executive board to two-year terms.
Wako reached back to his design experience to choose contrasting, highly visible colors. “Since cabs are traditionally yellow, using orange is a brilliant idea,” says Liz Goodgold, an international branding and marketing analyst. “It lets consumers pick out their cars in an instant.” The paint job subtly incorporates traditional taxi checkers running along the sides.
This is not Portland’s first “Union Cab.” In 1926, cabbies walked off the job, protesting low wages and punishing schedules. A Greek immigrant organized a driver-owned co-op under the Union banner, which roamed Portland’s streets for 25 years before Radio Cab bought it out. “Once again,” Wako says, “an immigrant has brought a Union Cab to Portland.”