Saturday, October 25, 2014

Uber’s ride-sharing service was halted Friday, just hours after it launched in Nevada.

Uber’s ride-sharing service was halted Friday, just hours after it launched in Nevada.

Carson City District Judge James Russell blocked Uber from offering any rides in the state through at least Nov. 7. A hearing is set for Nov. 6.

The state’s attorney general sought the temporary order late Friday afternoon.

State and county taxi officers also were trying to stop the Uber drivers earlier in the day, but managed to do so on a much smaller scale.

On Friday afternoon, at least five drivers — four in Las Vegas and one in Reno — had been cited by regulators, according to Teri Williams, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Business and Industry. Those drivers face fines of up to $10,000, Williams said.

Uniformed officers were at the Fashion Show mall on the Strip late Friday to meet Uber driver Michael Elsner with a ticket.

Five unmarked white Nevada Taxicab Authority vehicles surrounded his blue Ford Focus as he was driving east on Fashion Show Drive about 3:30 p.m. He was pulled over while trying to drop off two passengers. Two undercover officers wore black ski masks.

Elsner appeared annoyed but handled himself with humor.

During a call to an Uber hotline operator, he told officers and reporters, “They’re [Uber] worth more than $18 billion. Do you think the Nevada Taxicab authority is going to win? I mean, Come on, come on.”

He continued by telling the operator what happened. “It’s like a sting. It was crazy, man. They had one cop on the front telling me to get out of the car, if I had any drugs. It was wild.”

When asked by the operator if he needed anything else, he told her, “I want my car to be taken out of impound as soon as possible because I have to go to work tomorrow morning, but I know that won’t happen. And I don’t want to have to pay any fines so put some of that $18 billion you all have behind me, will yah?”

Elsner politely thanked the operator before hanging up the phone. His Focus was on top of a tow truck at 4:30 p.m.

Uber western region spokeswoman Eva Behrend said in an email Friday that the company will pay the fines, at least for now.

“Uber vigorously defends the rights of our partner drivers and firmly stands by them when they are wrongly cited or impounded. We will cover any financial or legal costs associated with these unjust actions,” she said.

But she did not respond to an email seeking comment on the court action.

Tom Ely, recently appointed interim director of the Nevada Taxicab Authority, said most citations Friday resulted from tips to authorities, but that Uber cars are easy to find.

“Uber does have an app out there that can be viewed and we can see where their vehicles are,” Ely said. “Since they don’t have the certificate of conveyance so they can operate legally in Nevada, we’re taking the proper enforcement action.”

Philosophical differences have driven the debate over Uber and other ride-sharing companies seeking to operate in the state.

Regulators say Uber drivers are transporting people without a license, which goes against state law.

But Uber management says the company is a technology platform that connects people who need rides to drivers who can provide them. They say they aren’t a transportation company and the drivers who will operate in Southern Nevada are independent contractors who sign an agreement that enables them to use the company’s app, which also provides electronic payments from the passenger to the driver.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Colton Lochhead atclochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Find him on Twitter: @ColtonLochhead. Contact Ricardo Torres at rtorres@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0381. Find him on Twitter: @rickytwrites.