Uber rolls into Portland, Ore., despite city regulations

A Portland transportation official says the ride-sharing service is operating illegally in the city and warns that drivers could face fines or even jail time.

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UberX is now reportedly available in Portland, Ore., even though it's illegal in the city. Getty Images/The Washington Post

Despite its recent pledge to be a "more humble company," Uber continues to be defiant of government regulations: this time in Portland, Ore.

The ride-sharing service began operating in Portland on Friday, regardless of the fact that city officials have deemed the service illegal. The company is rolling out its low-cost UberX service, which lets passengers use a smartphone to get rides from drivers who use their own cars. The Oregonian first reported on Uber's launch in Portland.

In response to news of Uber's launch, Portland transportation officials said the city is prepared to issue civil and criminal penalties against Uber and its drivers for "operating without required permits and inspections."

"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," City Commissioner Steve Novick, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation, said in a statement. "People who pick up passengers for Uber in Portland should know that they are operating illegally and could be subject to penalties."

In a blog post on Friday, Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend said the company is working to bring its service everywhere, even in cities where it knows it will face a "tough challenge."

"This weekend we're launching Uber in Portland where more than 27,000 residents have indicated they're looking for a safe, reliable and hassle-free ride," Behrend wrote, "and where nearly 500 drivers are waiting to start earning income."

Uber has a reputation for ignoring government regulations, choosing instead to deal with legal issues after its services have become established in an area. In the past it's received cease-and-desist letters from Boston, LA and Pittsburgh, among others. (Its rival Lyft has received such letters too.)

Uber has also been accused by Lyft of underhanded tactics such as ordering then canceling Lyft rides and making off with confidential documents. (Uber says Lyft has canceled Uber rides as well.)

While Uber's apparent devil-may-care attitude -- as well as a recent controversy over customer privacy and the company's ethics -- have tarnished its reputation some, the company remains the dominant force in the ride-share industry and continues its upward climb.

The San Francisco-based company announced Thursday that it had raised a new round of funding totaling $1.2 billion. This brings its valuation to between $35 billion and $40 billion and makes it the world's highest-valued venture-backed company. Uber plans to use the funding to expand into new markets in the Asia-Pacific region.

If Uber drivers are caught illegally picking up passengers in Portland, they could be fined up to $2,250 for the first offense, The Oregonian reported. It's also possible Uber drivers there could face arrest and jail time.

"Uber stands by every driver partner and will fight any unjust citation," the company said in an emailed statement.

Novick pointed out in a release that Portland officials are in the process of reviewing taxi regulations and that both Uber and Lyft have been invited to offer input.

"We have told Uber and Lyft that they are welcome to offer ideas for regulatory changes," Novick said. "Uber has chosen instead to break the law."

Update, 2:45 p.m PT: Adds comments from Uber.