Death & Taxis: A Look Back At Portland's Storied Cab History

It's inescapable—Uber is coming to Portland. We explore the backstory of the city's relationship with paid drivers across the decades.

By Marty Patail April 2, 2015 Published in the April 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Amy Martin

1915  City Commissioner Will Daly requires all cabs to list a schedule of rates with the public utilities department and display them clearly for passengers. 

1915  Police put a halt to “joyriding”—a common practice where taxicab drivers would pick up unwitting drunkards, drive them around for hours, and force them to pay the fare. 

1916  Taxi companies protest the “jitney” system—cheap, largely unlicensed cars operating on predetermined routes—as an unfair form of competition. (Uber before its time?) A series of ordinances outlaws jitneys in Portland.

1928  Following a string of violent brawls between rival cab companies vying for spots at cab stands, police revoke licenses for any drivers caught “fighting on the streets.”

1929  Taxi operators suggest the city limit how many cabs there can be—1 per 2,500 people. City commissioners decline, saying they “may as well undertake to limit grocery stores,” too.

1939  The city caves and sets a maximum number of cabs at 120. 

1941  The city sets the maximum charge for any ride within the city limits at $1. Taxi companies call city commissioners “jokers.”

1943 A new “share-the-ride” program established during wartime gas rationing comes under fire from passengers who claim cabs are using it to charge even higher rates than before.

1944  Mayor Earl Riley wants Portland cab drivers to have to display their names and pictures in the car. Cab companies argue this would create “annoyances” for female drivers and begin a long citywide strike.

1953  Seventeen cab drivers are arrested for bootlegging whiskey from the back of their cars. 

1978  Under Mayor Neil Goldschmidt, Portland considers deregulating cabs completely to spur competition and decrease fares. Portland’s three cab companies protest. “If you open the rates up,” one cabbie predicts, “you’ll have cab drivers fighting each other in the streets.”

1979  Portland creates a cab supervisor position, adopts special flat rates, and allows a fourth cab company to enter the city.

1995  Portland considers new safety rules for cabs, including statewide criminal background checks, limited 14-hour workdays, and age limits on vehicles. Veteran cabbies cry poor: “If I can’t make the money I’m making now, I’ll leave the business,” complains one.

1997  Cheap airport shuttles at PDX gain in popularity. Radio Cab’s general manager calls them “parasites.” The city’s cab supervisor fires back: “Why are [we] protecting the taxi industry at the expense of the public?”

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