The French government today signaled that Uber's low-cost service, UberPop, will be banned throughout the country as of New Years Day, marking the latest in a series of regulatory setbacks for the company. The news comes as three taxi unions blocked major highways around Paris in protest against Uber and the "unfair competition" it poses. On Friday, a French court ruled that UberPop could continue to operate within Paris — a decision that sparked today's taxi strike — but the interior ministry today said the service will be banned nationwide in accordance with new regulations that go into effect next year.
At issue is the fact that UberPop drivers are not required to hold professional licenses or insurance, as other French chauffeurs are. A law that goes into effect on January 1st strengthens these requirements, with violators facing two years in prison and a €300,000 fine. In a televised interview this morning, ministry spokesperson Pierre-Henry Brandet said UberPop and its unlicensed drivers poses risks to customers.
"for the consumer, it's a real danger."
"Currently, those who use UberPop are not protected in case of an accident," Brandet said. "So not only is it illegal to offer the service, but for the consumer, it's a real danger."
For its part, Uber says it will continue to operate UberPop in France until a court determines otherwise. "The recent decision by the Commercial Court in Paris is the first and only decision rendered on the Thévenoud Law and the court's decision was to allow UberPop to continue operating," a company spokesperson said in an email statement. "Uber remains committed to innovating and offering innovative transport solutions — including UberPop — that are safe, reliable and affordable in 2015. Uber is part of the solution, not part of the problem."
"As of today the product is live, it's not been banned, and I don't see anything changing on January 1st," Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, Uber’s general manager for Western Europe, said in a phone interview. He added that it's up to the courts to determine whether the new laws apply to UberPop and cited Friday's decision as an encouraging sign for the company. The president of the French Taxi Association acknowledged to the New York Times that it remains unclear whether the new laws will be applied to UberPop, but Brandet, speaking to French TV station BFMTV, said an earlier court ruling had "well demonstrated the illegal nature of the service."
Uber has faced stiff resistance from French taxi unions since it launched in the country three years ago. A protest earlier this year turned violent as Uber drivers clashed with union members, and a French court in October fined the company more than $120,000 for deceptive advertising. Today's announcement comes as Uber faces mounting pressure in India, where a driver allegedly raped a female passenger last week, as well as bans in Spain and the Netherlands.
December 15th, 10:45 AM: This article has been updated to include quotes from Pierre-Dimitry Gore-Coty and Uber's statement.