Uber vs. Portland is on.
Portland transportation officials are set to issue penalties and fines to several Uber drivers after documenting them over the weekend, just hours after the company launched its service in the Rose City illegally.
[Editor’s note: This story was edited to reflect that penalties have not yet been issued, but that city officials have “documented” drivers in violation of regulations.]
Bryan Hockaday, a policy and communications advisor for City Commissioner Steve Novick, told GeekWire on Sunday evening that the city plans to publish a report on Monday detailing its enforcement action activity from this weekend, along with the total amount of penalties that Uber drivers and the company have received.
Uber began operating in Portland on Friday at 5 p.m., despite not having the permits and inspections required by the city for a taxi service. Uber had previously stayed out of Oregon’s largest city, even though it has a track record for launching in markets without agreeing to some type of regulation required of their business.
On Friday evening, Portland officials issued a public response to Uber, promising to penalize Uber drivers for operating illegally.
“People who pick up passengers for Uber in Portland should know that they are operating illegally and could be subject to penalties,” Novick wrote in a statement. “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.”
The fines, outlined here, could total close to $4,000 for each Uber driver without a taxi plate, taxi driver permit, and taxi company permit. Uber, the company, will also receive fines.
Hockaday said that city officials hailed rides from Uber drivers and then documented violations once entering the vehicle.
“The very fact that an Uber driver was soliciting a ride and expected it was enough to impose a penalty,” he said.
Regulators on Friday night initially found drivers who kept accepting rides, but then curiously canceling the requests. On Saturday, though, the drivers were penalized.
“We have no other choice but to enforce current regulation,” Hockaday said. “We are obligated to do so and we intend to do so.”
Hockaday said he’s tried to contact Uber, but has not received a response. The company, meanwhile, said it has seen no citation reports thus far. Uber also noted that it facilitated “thousands” of rides this past weekend. Some drivers reportedly made around $300 on Friday night.
“We’ve had a tremendously warm welcome from riders and drivers in and around Portland,” Brooke Steger, Uber Seattle General Manager, said in a statement. “We remain committed to talking with the mayor and city officials moving forward.”
Uber’s strategy of launching in cities without regulation in place has produced mixed results. It started up illegally in Seattle before laws were put into place this past June. However, in Nevada, Uber suspended operations last month after pushback from government regulators.
For the time being, Uber doesn’t appear to be leaving Portland. The company tweeted this on Saturday:
Morning PDX! How did your first rides go last night? Let us know so we can make tonight even better. pic.twitter.com/P5g9FXt0JE
— Uber Portland (@Uber_PDX) December 6, 2014
We spoke to Steger on Friday night, just after Uber launched its uberX service in Portland. She noted the “outcry” from both drivers and riders who want Uber in the Rose City.
“I think launching is not an act of aggression on our part; it’s actually a hope to serve those people’s needs,” Steger said.
Uber, which is operating in four cities around Portland, also published a blog post on Friday with the title “Portlanders Want To Ride.”
“Every day Uber riders from neighboring communities are being dropped off in Portland and we have been working with the Mayor’s office for over a year to get them a ride back,” Uber’s Eva Behrend wrote.
Hockaday said that the city recognizes the increase in need for more private for-hire drivers in Portland, particularly after it found that demand for taxi rides is exceeding supply during peak hours. In response, the city temporarily lifted restrictions throughout December to allow for more taxi cabs.
Officials have expressed interest in convening a task force to re-examine the current taxi regulations. But Hockaday noted that this process will take time, and meanwhile, it will continue issuing penalties to Uber drivers and any other company that tries to conduct similar services without proper licensing.
“We’re not going to come up with new regulations tomorrow,” Hockaday said. “It takes process. Portlanders appreciate the public process and we intend to do so.”