Portland to investigate claims of Uber cheating
Portland will investigate allegations reported in the New York Times on Sunday that Uber used software to thwart city enforcement efforts when it operated without authorization in 2014.
Mayor Ted Wheeler and Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman announced the investigation at a Monday afternoon press conference. Wheeler said he was "very concerned" Uber may have purposefully worked to thwart the city's job to protect the public.
Uber subsequently paid a fine and was licensed to operate in Portland under a regulatory policy approved by the council in 2015.
The software, called "Greyball," allowed drivers for the ride-sharing company to spot and avoid city employees ordering rides before the regulations were approved.
The Times story detailed how the ride sharing company used Greyball to root out inspectors that sought to ticket drivers in cities where the company operated without permission. The report states these practices took place in Portland prior to the city's agreement with Uber that would eventually allow the company to operate legally within city limits.
To build a case against Uber, inspectors would pretend to be customers, call rides and then ticket drivers after completing the trip. Greyball would be used to tag inspectors and weed them out, preventing them from being picked up. It worked off data collected from the Uber app and other ways.
This latest news comes after a video was released showing Uber CEO Travis Kalanick fighting with one of his own drivers.
Earlier in the day, Commissioner Nick Fish said he also wants to make sure Uber hasn't violated its 2015 agreement with the city. He and Commissioner Amanda Fritz were on the losing end of the 3-2 vote that allowed ride-sharing services to operate legally in Portland.
Fish told KOIN 6 News he is not "pro-uber" or "anti-uber," but he wants a "thorough independent investigation."
Fish said such an investigation should produce a report that would be delivered to the city council. And if Uber doesn't cooperate with the investigation, Fish said they could be subpoenaed.
"How can we trust Uber to do the right thing?" Fish asked.
Fish said Uber has an "unhealthy culture," and it runs over consumers and regulators to disrupt the market. He's also concerned the company could use similar technology to profile customers today.
"They can cherry pick who they serve," Fish said.
A July 2015 report found after the launch of Uber — and competitor Lyft — Portland taxi companies lost half their business. Fish said a couple taxi companies had completely gone out of business since the arrival of ride sharing companies.
As far as an investigation into ride sharing rival company Lyft, Fish said he couldn't speak to Uber's competition, but any code updates the city may eventually decide on would apply to them as well.
If the city council does take action against Uber as a result of any investigations, Fish said he's confident things will be different than they were in 2015 when it agreed to let the company operate in city limits. The primary change? Two of the city commissioners that voted to allow Uber into Portland aren't on the city council anymore.
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune.