Uber compromises with Portland and stops service for three months

The unthinkable has occurred: Uber has compromised with a local government, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. Uber has agreed to suspend its operations for three months in Portland, Oregon, as the company works with local regulators to reach a legal solution. This comes weeks after Portland’s city government sued the ridesharing company for violating local taxi ordinances. Sound the bells because an Uber-government alliance is a miracle and an angel just got its wings. Or something.

Los Angeles and San Francisco sue Uber, settle with Lyft

Uber’s week from hell continued Tuesday, as the offices of the Los Angeles and San Francisco district attorneys filed lawsuits suing the company for unlawful business practices. The entities settled with Lyft for similar grievances.

There’s no news on where Sidecar stands with the DA offices, despite the fact that Sidecar was also threatened with legal action from the city governments back in September.

The DAs news release, as tweeted by New York Times’ Mike Isaac, says that the two offices are filing a civil consumer protection action lawsuit against Uber “for making false or misleading statements to consumers and for engaging in a variety of business practices which violate California law.” The DAs want multiple product and marketing changes from Uber related to how it describes its background checks, charges consumers, and tracks mileage, according to the filing, which was obtained by Re/Code.

Here are the DAs’ major grievances:

  1. Uber misleads customers about its safety procedures, especially in regards to background checks and the “Safe Rides” fee it charges consumers.
  2. Uber hasn’t submitted its mileage tracking technology for review, so the government can ensure it’s not ripping off passengers.
  3. Uber drops off and picks up passengers at the airport without airport approval. Further more, the fee it charges consumers to do so is “misleading.”

The DAs reportedly want Uber to pay restitution to customers for its $1 “Safe Rides” fee, which covers the cost of Uber’s background checks. Since Uber’s background checks aren’t as rigorous as the ones taxis are required to do, the city governments believe the Safe Rides charge misleads customers.

The DAs also want the ridesharing companies to submit their mileage to state government to ensure accurate tracking.

Lyft was amenable to the DAs’ requests, which is why it settled for $500,000, according to Forbes reporter Ellen Huet. In a statement, Lyft spokeswoman Erin Simpson said, “After months of productive conversations, Lyft has entered into an agreement with District Attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles that demonstrates our shared commitment to consumers and innovation.”

Uber, it appears, was not. When reached for comment, Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrand said:

Californians and California lawmakers all agree–Uber is an integral, safe, and established part of the transportation ecosystem in the Golden State. Uber has met with the District Attorneys to address their concerns regarding airport operations, the uberPOOL product, background checks, and operation of the app. We will continue to engage in discussions with the District Attorneys.

The SF and LA DA offices have been considering such action for months now after raising concerns about ridesharing companies’ background check practices. The two institutions threatened Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar in September with legal action if they didn’t change the way they described their background checks to the public. Since transportation networking companies aren’t held to the same rigorous background check standards as cab companies in California, they miss some drivers’ criminal records.

This post was updated several times Tuesday afternoon as more information became available.

Uber banned in Spain & Thailand, sued in Portland, hassled in Rio

On Tuesday, both Thailand and Spain banned Uber. You know the drill by now: The company’s drivers don’t have taxi permits and/or insurance, and the authorities have had an earful from furious cab drivers who do have to pay for such things. Yesterday it was authorities in Delhi that told the firm to stop operating locally, after an Uber driver allegedly raped a passenger. Meanwhile, the cities of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and Portland, Oregon, have also told the firm to stay off the roads (via police complaint and lawsuit respectively), and an Uber driver in San Francisco has been charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter for driving over and killing a six-year-old girl.

Portland sues Uber, sends cease-and-desist letter

Last week, Uber launched illegally in Portland and on Monday, Portland fought back. The city is suing the company for its expand-first-apologize-later approach. Portland regulators are asking the court to rule that Uber is subject to the city’s taxi regulations. The city also sent Uber a cease-and-desist letter, because it wants Uber to stop operating until it is complying with “safety, health and consumer protection rules.” Regulatory battles are nothing new for Uber, which is currently facing backlash in India after a passenger was raped by an Uber driver.

Uber banned in Delhi after alleged rape by driver

Local authorities in the Indian city of Delhi have banned Uber, following the alleged rape of a woman there by an Uber driver. According to the Economic Times of India, the Delhi Transport Commission says Uber’s drivers are offering point-to-point taxi services without the correct licence.

“In this rape case, the victim was provided an All India Permit Taxi which is not allowed to ferry customers point-to-point in the national capital,” transport department commissioner Satish Mathur told the newspaper on Monday. “Uber is not an authorized radio cab service and has been operating illegally.”

According to the piece, the driver was at the time of the incident out on bail, after being arrested over the rape of another passenger in 2011.

Uber chief Travis Kalanick said in a Sunday statement that “what happened over the weekend in New Delhi is horrific” and the company would “do everything, I repeat, everything to help bring this perpetrator to justice and to support the victim and her family in her recovery.”

“We will work with the government to establish clear background checks currently absent in their commercial transportation licensing programs. We will also partner closely with the groups who are leading the way on women’s safety here in New Delhi and around the country and invest in technology advances to help make New Delhi a safer city for women,” Kalanick said.

Meanwhile, a ban on one of Uber’s services has been upheld in the Netherlands. A court in The Hague ruled on Monday that the UberPop “ride-sharing” service was breaking the law because, while it is presented as a carpooling service, its drivers are charging a fee and therefore need a taxi license.

Despite the fact that UberPop drivers face €10,000 ($12,265) fines if they are caught — and indeed, four have already been fined — Uber has promised that it will continue running the service. This is in keeping with the company’s regular encouragement of people to break laws it does not agree with, with no promise that it will pay their fines. Uber itself now faces a €100,000 fine for continuing to run UberPop in the Netherlands.

Uber is also uging drivers to risk fines in the U.S. city of Portland, Oregon, which has declared the service illegal, and in many other cities around the world. Last week Kalanick said in a blog post that he was eager for Uber to become a “more humble company.”

Oh, the places solar cells will go

A solar-powered loo prompts us to wonder where else can solar cells go to produce and promote clean power use. See our list of 8 places where solar cells make a good source of power.

U.S. Cellular launching LTE in March with 2 Samsung gadgets

Next month, consumers in smaller towns and cities across the U.S. will have access to their first LTE network as U.S. Cellular ramps ups its commercial 4G service. The regional CDMA operator will start selling a tablet in March and a Galaxy smartphone in April.

Verizon, Comcast double team AT&T in Bay Area battle

The country’s largest mobile operator and largest cable provider bringing their “quadruple play” service to San Francisco and the Bay Area, jointly marketing Comcast residential TV and broadband and Verizon mobile service. In the process, they’re poking a needle in the eye of mutual enemy AT&T.

Today in Cleantech

Let’s take a trip back in time this Monday to mark down the important information of which U.S. utilities lead the nation in renewable energy — and they ain’t in California. According to the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), as of 2010, Oregon’s Portland General Electric had the most customers signed up for renewable energy programs, with 78,000 residential and commercial customers, some 12.6 percent of all eligible customers. That’s much better than the national average of about 2 percent, and indicates Portland has a lot of green-conscious customers — as well as a lot of cost-competitive renewable power to sell, including wind and biomass. While California’s utilities are under mandate to add a much larger overall share of renewable power to their mix — one-third by 2020 — they’ve not been as fast in signing up customers to buy that power. As for total renewable energy sales, Texas’s Austin Energy’s 754.2 million kilowatt-hours beat PGE’s 735.7 million kWh, although just by a hair. Austin’s municipal utility has a lot of cool renewable energy-smart grid integration projects going on, like the DOE-funded Pecan Street Project — worth checking out.