Uber app expands in France despite govt opposition ... and laws

Local taxis not happy, but peer-2-peer looks unstoppable

Taxi drivers in Nantes, Strasbourg and Marseille have been protesting after Uber announced on Monday that it would expand its Uberpop service to those cities.

Alexandre Molla, Uber France’s director of expansion, told Le Monde that this was just the beginning and that “a VTC offer (voitures de transport avec chauffeur) would follow in coming weeks and months”.

The Uberpop app connects private, non-professional drivers with passengers, thus circumventing the mandatory 250 hours training required for VTC drivers under French law.

Despite political efforts to clamp down on the service, Uber claims it already has 400,000 Uberpop users in France, in Bordeaux, Nice, Lille, Lyon, Toulouse and Paris.

However, last month, a French court upheld part of a recent transport law – which is clearly targeted at has nothing to do with Uber – that bans companies from showing live locations of available cars that are not traditional taxis on a smartphone app.

The law, passed late last year, also requires cars that are not booked to go back to a garage or depot between trips.

Uber is not the only ride-sharing app in France, but it is by far the most high-profile and is at the vanguard of the battle with traditional taxi companies.

It has filed a formal complaint against the French state with the European Commission, where it may find sympathetic ears. Former Digital Agenda Commissioner Steelie Neelie Kroes was an outspoken fan of the service and new digi-veep Andrus Ansip appears to share her opinion.

To date, French police have charged more than 300 drivers for working illegally – including a crackdown at the Cannes Film Festival. Although Uber does not consider these drivers employees, it is supporting them by covering legal fees and fines.

France may seem hellbent on stamping out Uber’s business model, but lessons may be learned from Belgium. After many protests and much legal action, a compromise was reached in Brussels.

On a national level, Belgian deputy prime minister and man in charge of the digital agenda Alexander de Croo is also on board: “We shouldn't go to extremes on Uber. Peer-2-peer is the future of our economy if we make laws that make it possible.” ®

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