There’s apparent demand for Uber in Portland.
The ride-hailing app already has 500 drivers on its platform in the Rose City, just two weeks after city lawmakers approved regulations that allow companies like Uber to operate.
While some of those drivers may have been driving for Uber in surrounding cities for the past few months, it’s still a substantial number.
“That’s a lot people in two weeks,” said David Plouffe, Uber’s senior vice president of policy and strategy.
Plouffe, the former campaign manager for President Obama who joined Uber last year, spoke at a TechFestNW event on Thursday and said his company eventually hopes to have 10,000 drivers in Portland.
“That’s a major economic driver, and it’s not just driver income,” Plouffe said. “30 percent of our trips start or end at a small businesses, many of which are off the public transportation lines so it’s harder for them to get traffic. Now they have people being dropped off at their doorstep, and getting picked back up in an easy, seamless way.”
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales joined Plouffe on stage at OMSI on Thursday, as the pair joked and laughed together — certainly a far cry from this past December, when Uber began operating in Portland illegally.
Uber’s arrival five months ago forced the city to launch a sting operation against the company’s drivers and it ultimately filed a lawsuit against Uber. On Dec. 18, Uber said it would temporarily stop operating in Portland to let the city revise its for-hire regulations.
Then, last month, the city council voted 3-2 to approve a 120-day pilot program allowing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate legally.
Plouffe said that Uber helps fill an unmet need in Portland’s transportation system, particularly for people whose only option to get around was to drive their own vehicle.
“What Uber and services like it have provided is an equality of transportation,” he said. “No matter where you live in the city, you can press a button.”
Hales, meanwhile, called Portland a “city ripe for technology and the sharing economy.” But he stressed the importance of community discussion and “a real, deliberative process about controversial issues.”
“Really what we are doing is learning while we go along,” Hales said.
The mayor said he’s looking forward to analyzing data from Uber, Lyft, and the taxi companies after the 120-day pilot period to make any necessary regulatory changes. He called the temporary regulations a “learning process which government doesn’t typically do.”
“Usually you have these big, long, ponderous processes,” Hales said. “That’s not going to work in the economy that we are now. We will have to do this kind of experiment to test, try, revise, and try again. It’s a model which is a little strange for government, I have to admit.”