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Photo Credit: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Eric Hansen drove around downtown Vancouver, Wash., this summer. The company announced Friday, Dec. 5, that it was moving into Portland, even though city officials warned about fines for Uber drivers.San Francisco’s Uber drove into Portland Friday evening, even as city officials warned that ride-sharing drivers could face fines if they pick someone up inside the city.

Uber’s Brooke Steger wrote in a blog announced that the company decided to move into Portland after being welcomed into the surburbs, with Uber drivers in Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro and Tigard.

“Now, it’s time to have it all: your Uber is arriving now,” Steger wrote. “We’re honored to be a part of a city that continues to push the envelope when it comes to technology, culture and innovation.”

Uber is the ride-sharing company that uses a smartphone app to call for private cars in 254 cities around the world. The company said it covers about 64 percent of the U.S. population. Uber started in Vancouver, Wash., early this year. It also began offering rides in the suburbs, but has been stymied by Portland taxi-licensing rules, which limit the number of taxis and towncars operating.

Uber claims its rides are about 30 percent cheaper than Portland taxis. It also requires drivers to go through background checks and have clean driving records. The company also has insurance on drivers, who also carry their own insurance, according to Uber.

After Uber announced its intentions, Mayor Charlie Hales responded with his own warning, posting on his Facebook page that “Uber’s action is illegal.”

“The city will enforce existing regulations,” Hales wrote. “That could include fines for the company, as well as fines for drivers.”

Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend said Friday evening that the company launched in Portland because “Rose City residents were tired of waiting while the rest of the world passed Portland by.”

"Now it’s time to try and bring Uber everywhere, even the cities where we know it’s going to be a tough challenge, but where residents have made their voices loud and clear: they want job generation, they want choice, they want competition," Behrend said. "This weekend we’re launching Uber in Portland where more than 27,000 residents have indicated they looking for a safe, reliable and hassle-free ride, and where nearly 500 drivers are waiting to start earning income.

“Every day Uber riders from neighboring cities 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.”

The company wants to work with state and local leaders “to bring the impact of the Uber platform to Portland,” Behrend said.

Uber posted a video on its website showing the first Portland Uber rider, Brian Kidd, who is known for riding a unicycle while playing flaming bagpipes.

Operating illegally

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

Fines for the most common violations range from $1,000 to $5,000.

Portland has encouraged city residents to use the smartphone app Curb to call taxis from Broadway and Radio Cab, two of the largest permitted taxi companies in the city.

In his Facebook post, Hales wrote that the city “embraces the technology of the sharing economy. The city will continue to work with transportation-network companies like Lyft to embrace that economy. To the degree that Uber wants to be part of that process: fine.”

Reporter Kevin L. Harden contributed to this story.

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