Uber can now add the city of Portland, Oregon to its numerous battles for a right to exist. Despite a cease and desist order and assessed fines, the ride share service appears defiant in the face of fines and sanctions if it fails to stop operations.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation filed the lawsuit with the Multnomah County Circuit Court on Monday and included the cease and desist order at that time. Uber has until 5:00 PM on Thursday to not only cease operations but also stop using the historic old town “Portland, Oregon” sign in its app backgrounds as the graphic is protected by Oregon trademark law.
Uber filed for a change of venue to move the action from state to federal court with the U.S. District Court, District of Oregon. Reasons for requesting the change of venue are unclear but the court granted the request.
Portland officials alleged that the company had been getting under their skin for the last year. It used its influence by issuing campaigns in the surrounding areas of Tigard, Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro, and Vancouver. Requests to stay within a regulatory framework and address concerns were ignored by Uber, much to the city’s consternation.
Among other issues, Portland wanted to assess the same taxes applicable to taxis and town cars. It also cited safety issues, including the ability to screen drivers. Insurance and accommodating disabilities were also noted among concerns.
However, the company has a marked pattern of pushing itself into markets without first assessing the regulatory issues. It started its push with Facebook and Craigslist advertising to solicit drivers who wanted extra cash by turning private vehicles into taxi cabs. Passengers would get into contact using the UberX application.
The City of Portland is not reassured by the company’s processes for ensuring safety or compliance with local laws. Mayor Charlie Hale explained that this went well beyond just welcoming new businesses and enters the realm of consumer protection. Citing support for the decision, the taxi and town-car union, Private-for-Hire Transportation Board of Review, made a statement against distributing the allowable 460 taxi permits to Uber drivers.
City enforcement officials already started rigorous enforcement efforts. Undercover officers with the transportation bureau requested and received rides from drivers on Saturday. On Tuesday, the bureau issued two citations totaling $2,750 for operating without a company or vehicle permit. It issued further warnings to drivers on the likelihood of future fines.
Social media uproar and public feedback does not appear supportive of the city’s action. Of those unscientifically polled, 61 percent do not agree with the city’s lawsuit and support Uber in its attempts to battle the city of Portland, Oregon. Many praise it as an easily accessed transportation option.
This is not the first time Uber faced opposition. It is currently banned in Spain and Thailand. Operations suspended in Nevada after that state sued and the court granted a request to block the company. The Delhi region of India implemented another ban after a driver raped a passenger.
However, despite the battles, Portland, Oregon may be a new frontier for Uber as it is underserved by current tax services. Despite having a population of over 1.5 million, Portland lacks the taxi infrastructure of other cities its size and larger and most residents consider cabs inefficient. Under that scenario, Uber presents considerable advantages. There is some speculation that Portland, like Seattle, may start a new transportation registration category that will allow services like this to operate legally.
By Jocelyn Mackie
Photo by Parker Knight – Flickr License