Portland – the city that works (over consumers)

The slogan “Keep Portland Weird” was reinforced recently when the city threatened to fine two local companies a total of $895,000 for—get this—offering to charge prices the city deems are “too low.”

You see, a 2009 law requires that limousine and sedan rides to or from Portland International Airport must cost you at least $50. Limos and sedans also must charge you at least 35 percent more than what taxis would charge for a trip anywhere else in the city. And, such taxi alternatives can’t pick you up any sooner than an hour after you call.

This new real-life Portlandia chapter started when Fiesta Limousine and Towncar.com offered $32 one-way trips to the airport through the daily deal website Groupon.com. City enforcers immediately threatened them with huge fines and suspension of their operating permits. The companies canceled the promotions and refunded their customers.

But, the companies did something else, too. Last Thursday they filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Portland’s limousine and sedan regulations. Their attorney with the national public interest law firm Institute for Justice put it this way:

“These laws amount to nothing more than naked economic protectionism…they have nothing to do with protecting the riding public. They have everything to do with protecting the city’s taxicab companies from competition and driving up prices for consumers.”

Portland has a long history of protecting favored businesses while harming consumers through such anti-competitive regulations. Hopefully, this time the courts will slap down the regulators and cut the rest of us a break.

Of course, the City Council can do the right thing first and repeal these regulations. Before voting for your favorite mayoral or council candidate, you might ask them whose side they’re on: favored businesses or yours?

Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.