Uber Pledges to Support Drivers, Fight City Fines In Court

The City of Portland wants to fight Uber? Uber says bring it on.

A spokeswoman for Uber, the ride-sharing company that last night defied City Hall by launching its car service in Portland, says it will back its drivers by waging a legal fight against city fines.

"Uber stands by every driver partner," says Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend, "and will fight unjust citations moving forward."

Portland began trying to crack down on Uber drivers soon after the service launched at 5 pm Friday. (Uber orchestrated a simulateous news release to its plans at 4:30 pm to WW and The Oregonian,)  KATU and The O reported that undercover enforcement officers tried—and failed—to purchase rides using the company's cell phone app. 

City Commissioner Steve Novick, who oversees transportation, has warned that Uber drivers face fines starting at $2,750 for a first offense. The risk for drivers is big—because they are driving their own vehicles as de facto taxis, and are contractors with Uber, not employees.

"People who pick up passengers for Uber in Portland should know that they are operating illegally and could be subject to penalties," Novick said Friday in a statement.

To see how Uber could fight back, look to Las Vegas.

That's where Uber, a San Francisco-based startup valued at $40 billion, is battling in court with the Nevada Transportation Authority and the Nevada Taxicab Authority, who have been hailing Uber cabs, fining the drivers and impounding their cars.

Uber has responded by paying the costs of the drivers' fines, funding their court costs and legal bills, and renting them new cars to drive while their vehicles are impounded.

The company has also waged a court battle to block a preliminary injunction by the Nevada Transportation Authority to keep its service out of Las Vegas. That battle has moved up to the Nevada Supreme Court—but Uber has shut down its Las Vegas service.

In Portland, Behrend says the company will continue discussing rule changes with City Hall, even though officials have now decried them as scofflaws and bullies.

"We have been speaking with the city for well over a year and remain committed to continuing the discussion," Behrend says.

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