Uber Launch in Portland Goes Ahead, Despite Being Illegal

It's been a somewhat tough run for Uber lately. On top of the reporting of controversial, highly damaging comments by company vice president Emil Michael, musing on hiring opposition researchers to dig up information on a critical journalist, and accusations of sexism in its foreign operations, there are also some place in the U.S. where the transportation app just isn't welcome. And now, despite knowing they're not welcome, they're elbowing into in a new city: the Uber launch in Portland is going ahead, despite illegality, and city officials are outraged.

In short, Uber seems determined to force the issue in Portland, sending their drivers out to whisk paying passengers all over the Rose City, in spite of the local government's determination that it not be allowed to flourish there. Uber launched its services Friday night, but the city is warning that the cost of someone getting behind the wheel to actually work for them could be enormous — up to a $1,000 fine for a driver's first offense, and escalating up to $5,000 for subsequent offenses, according to Ars Technica. In other words, Portland is trying to cut Uber out of its confines not by threatening would-be passengers, but the drivers themselves.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation issued a press release Friday warning of the steep penalties to come, quoting City Commissioner Steve Novick.

There’s nothing sharing about this so-called ‘sharing economy’ company: They want to profit in Portland without playing by the same rules as existing cab companies. People who pick up passengers for Uber in Portland should know that they are operating illegally and could be subject to penalties. Public safety, fairness among competitors and customer service are our top priorities. Unlike permitted drivers, Uber drivers do not carry commercial insurance, putting Portland customers at great risk.
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Portland isn't the only place that's gone to metaphorical war with Uber lately — they've pulled out of Nevada amid lawsuits, have been beset with challenges in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and have had Toronto officials and the taxi cab industry buzzing with criticism and calls for restrictions.

For their part, however, the San Francisco-based, ostensibly peer-to-peer ridesharing app seems determined to keep making new in-roads, whether or not the cities and towns they land in want them there. This is demonstrated pretty well by their update on the Portland launch, insisting Uber is headed everywhere.

254 cities in 51 countries; 64% of the U.S. population covered; 14 U.S. jurisdictions and counting have adopted a smart regulatory framework for ridesharing – a transportation alternative that didn’t exist four years ago. Now it’s time to try and bring Uber everywhere – even the cities where we know it’s going to be a tough challenge.

Interestingly, speaking to The New York Times, Novick suggested that if any such service came to Portland, he'd rather it be Lyft, Uber's less-heralded competitor.

I don’t know if this is legally feasible, but my inclination would be to allow Lyft here a long time before Uber. Lyft seems like a respectable company, and Uber seems like a bunch of thugs.

Suffice to say, with this level of open antipathy on the part of the City Commissioner, you haven't heard the last of this fracas. So keep your eyes out if you're in Portland — if you see an Uber driver out there, you might want to do them a solid and let them know the risks they're assuming.

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