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Uber Meets the French Resistance

Kate Van Brocklin | June 11, 2014 | Story Tech World

It's been a bad few days—at least on the surface—for Uber. The taxi drivers of Europe declared war on the ride-sharing company. Across England, France and Spain on Wednesday, tens of thousands of traditional cabbies staged a united protest against the evils (ahem, competition) of Silicon Valley's rising app-driven transportation service. On top of that, here in California, the state's PUC ruled that ridesharing companies like Uber off the premises of airports like SFO until they complied with local permitting.

First, the overseas news. From the roundabouts in London to the grand boulevards in Madrid, taxi drivers stopped in the middle of streets, blocking major thruways in several metropolitan cities. The strike stems from a suspicion that Uber drivers evade local laws and paying the same taxes as its conventional cousins. Uber is skeptical of this argument. "In Paris, the number of taxis hasn't changed since the 1950s," Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, Uber's regional general manager of northern Europe, said to the New York Times. "The strikes are an attempt to desperately fight against competition in the market."

In an ironic twist, these protests may pan out exactly how the protestors didn't want them to: with Uber using the publicity to build its consumer base. On Wednesday, Uber boasted an 850 percent increase in people signing up for its car-paging service in England from last week. The company also promoted a 50 percent discount to Parisians and Lyon citizens alike, as well as to other European cites.

France's solution is a bit etatist: the government proposes to create its own app with the help of the startup Etalab, which would work just like Uber, except it would link people only with licensed taxis. Because if there's one thing we associate with the government of France, it's innovation.

But as the airport fight points out (and as we've seen with other tech business models, like Airbnb) these rule-bending technologies eventually will need to be regulated. The question is how to do it. It's not like we want to see the airports clogged with cars. The California Public Utilities Commission is ordering smartphone ride booking services, like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, to stop giving customers airport rides. Drivers face possible revocation of their California permits if they're caught. CPUC President Michael Peevey's letters to Uber and Lyft have so far been "ignored," but as regulators around the country have been cracking down on the whole spectrum of ride sharing companies, it's clear that the companies and drivers will soon have to face accountability for their side hustle services.

Or at least they're going to have to deliver more kittens and hamburgers.

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