PORTLAND — Uber, a startup ridesharing service that has frustrated the taxi industry in other U.S. metropolitan areas, has launched its first Northern New England operation in Portland.
Kaitlin Durkosh, a spokeswoman for the company, confirmed the launch on Thursday, Oct. 2.
The company offers various levels of service built around its smartphone app, which lets people see the participating drivers nearby and request a ride. The company is launching its lowest-cost service, UberX, in Portland, which allows vetted drivers to operate in their own vehicles as competitors to local taxis.
Durkosh said fares from Old Port to Deering Center are around $10; downtown to West End are around $6; and Portland International Jetport to the arts district costs around $12. The minimum fare is $5.
The fares, which the company advertises as 17 percent cheaper on average than traditional taxis, also can vary based on the time of day.
For those reasons, the company has generated opposition from the regulated taxi industry in certain cities and at higher levels.
Earlier this month, a German court banned the service nationwide, pending investigation of whether the company is unfairly competing with taxis there, according to The New York Times.
The company charges a base fare of $1.75 for each ride, with another $2 per mile and 23 cents per minute. The company takes a cut of what each driver picks up for fares.
Bill Guernier, the company’s general manager for regional expansion, declined to say how many drivers are signed up in the Portland market, but said thousands have downloaded the company’s smartphone app and hundreds have submitted applications and background checks to become drivers.
“There’s been an overwhelming interest in Portland,” Guernier said.
Guernier said the San Francisco-based company that started in 2010 has expanded its reach from places where it can beat taxi service to cities and areas where taxi services don’t typically operate.
“It’s really a whole paradigm shift for how (people) think about moving around their city,” Guernier said.
The Portland area will cater to fares extending up the coast to Freeport, north to Gray, south to Biddeford and west to Limerick.
The international company also launched a Twitter account for their Maine presence, @Uber_Maine.
The service has stirred controversy in other cities, where it has undercut local taxi services. Critics have raised questions about the company’s compensation of drivers and raised safety concerns because the ridesharing service often avoids some regulation required for taxis.
Jessica Grondin, spokeswoman for the city, said local officials found out Thursday that the service would open and will investigate whether and how it might fall under the city’s existing regulations for taxis.
“We’ll have to see what direction (the City Council) wants to take,” Grondin said.
Guernier said existing regulations don’t often deal specifically with the type of services Uber provides, allowing the company to make their case to local officials for new rules.
Grondin said the experience of other cities provide some examples for handling regulations around the service, but she said it’s possible Uber’s entry to Portland won’t elicit as sharp an opposition as in some other places that have costlier licensing to operate a taxi service.
“The barrier to entry here is quite low compared to other cities, so there might not be the same reaction as in other cities,” Grondin said.
But negotiating those regulations aren’t all bad, Grondin said.
“It’s exciting that they see a need here,” Grondin said. “Any time we can have a new tech company have confidence in Portland, that is a great thing.”
The Portland, Maine, home screen on Uber.com displays the company’s ridesharing service area in greater Portland. The service launched on Oct. 2.