Transportation company Uber just announced in an interview with Le Monde that it will be suspending UberPOP in France tonight at 8pm. The news follows a difficult week for the company. Last Thursday, anti-Uber protests turned to a mini-guerrilla warfare as taxi drivers flipped over and burnt Uber cars. On Monday, two Uber France leaders were taken into custody following an unrelated investigation — they will be judged in September for running illegal taxi operations.
In all these occasions, UberPOP was the target. As a reminder UberPOP was launched in February 2014 and is the confusingly named equivalent of UberX in France (UberX in France is the equivalent of Uber in the U.S.). With UberPOP, anyone can become a driver without any special professional license.
Many taxi drivers saw the new service as unfair competition. UberPOP was banned in many different cities and countries, including Brussels, the Netherlands and, yes, France. But today is a bit different, as it is only the second time that Uber suspended a controversial activity without a court order — the first time was UberX in Portland. It’s also worth noting that Uber suspended its activities in India for six weeks following a rape.
Until today, when an UberPOP driver got fined, Uber paid for the fine. But given that the Government, taxi drivers and the police were all going after UberPOP, it got a lot harder to keep UberPOP drivers on the road.
Uber France CEO Thibaud Simphal told Le Monde that the company had to suspend the service because many UberPOP drivers had been physically attacked over the past few days. He also admitted that being an UberPOP driver was a tough side job, saying that drivers earned on average €8,200 per year thanks to UberPOP, or just enough to pay for their cars.
Today’s news doesn’t mean anything for UberX, Uber and UberVAN in France. All these services will continue as they are much more regulated than UberPOP — only professional drivers with a professional license and 250 hours of training can become Uber drivers.
Uber also said that it will talk to its UberPOP drivers and help them get the proper professional license to become UberX or Uber drivers. The only issue is that there are some restrictions with this license. For example, as this license was first designed for limo drivers, the license stipulates that you need to drive a big car, longer than 4.5m. The Government has also been issuing very few of these licenses over the past 6 months.
Finally, the company announced that if the Constitutional Council deems UberPOP legal, the company is ready to relaunch the service. This is highly unlikely.
Last year, when Uber introduced UberPOP, Uber was already a controversial company in France as UberX drivers were already competing against taxi drivers. It’s hard to tell whether the company introduced UberPOP to create a smoke screen and protect its UberX and Uber services, or whether the company truly believed that UberPOP had a chance. There is one thing for sure — all the other Uber services are now much less controversial and are here to stay in France.
In the light of last week’s violence, we have today decided to suspend uberPOP, our ride sharing service, until September’s Constitutional Court decision. It’s a tremendously sad day for our 500 000 French uberPOP passengers, as well as the drivers who used the platform. However, safety must come first. Our regular UberX service, which uses licensed cars and makes up a majority of our trips each day in France, will continue to operate as usual.
uberPOP has been an important source of income for the 10 000 drivers using the platform. They’ve also told us how much they love the flexibility that comes with this work: the freedom to pick their kids up from school, look after an elderly relative or attend an evening course. All on their schedule, working when it is convenient. So our priority now is to get these 10 000 partners back on the road as quickly as possible, potentially as licensed uberX drivers.
Unfortunately, the current licensing process has become too much of an obstacle course. It once took two weeks to get up and running with a license. But today we have 12,000 partners who have applied for one and are needlessly waiting–with only 215 applicants licensed since the Thevenoud Law came into force. It can take six months, likely longer for an unemployed person to get a license, and now requires 250 hours of training (compared to 25 for a light aircraft pilot’s license) as well as a €1,500 down payment. The use of smaller or environmentally friendly cars (exactly the ones we want on our city streets) are prohibited. 12 000 unemployed and counting who made it through the process to become a partner-driver is a terrible missed opportunity, especially in a country with over 10 per cent unemployment.
We understand that new technology is disruptive: not just for established companies, but for the people who work in them and their families. This is especially true at a time of high unemployment. But we believe there is a way forward that provides new opportunities for all drivers including taxi drivers, as well as passengers who love the convenience of services like Uber, Heetch and Djump. Hundreds of taxi drivers have already switched over to Uber and are making a better living, with a work schedule to suit their family’s’ needs. It is heartbreaking to see the violence in the streets when we know that taxi drivers can earn more on the Uber platform. It’s why we need to do a better job explaining and communicating the advantages of Uber to all drivers.
Finally a heartfelt thanks to the thousands of drivers who made uberPOP possible. And to all our million plus French riders for their support. In September the Constitutional Court will decide whether the provisions in the Thevenoud Law targeting uberPOP are constitutional or not. In the meantime we’ll be working hard to get all the partner-drivers affected by today’s suspension back on the road again as quickly as possible.