[PARIS] Uber Technologies will suspend its UberPOP ride-hailing service in France, the US company said on Friday, after it faced often-violent protests and local authorities denounced it as an illegal taxi service.
After fierce protests last week by licenced French taxi drivers who argue it threatens their livelihood with unfair competition, France took two executives from California-based Uber into custody and said they will face trial in September.
France's legal clampdown was the latest setback for Uber in Europe. An Italian court in May banned unlicensed car-sharing services, two months after a German court issued a similar ban and imposed stiff fines for violations of local transport laws.
"We have decided to suspend UberPOP in France from 2000 (1800 GMT) this Friday evening, primarily to assure the safety of Uber drivers," the newspaper Le Monde quoted Uber France head Thibaud Simphal as saying, adding some drivers had been targets of violence. "The second reason is that we want to create a spirit of reconciliation and dialogue with public authorities to show we are acting responsibly," he said.
In a June 25 protest in numerous French cities, cabbies blocked roads to the capital's airports, overturned cars and burned tyres to press for the scheme to be abolished.
Police said 70 cars were damaged and seven police officials injured in the protests. Ten people were arrested.
The protests were among the fiercest in a series of strikes and other demonstrations across Europe against Uber, whose backers include investment bank Goldman Sachs and technology giant Google. It is valued in excess of US$40 billion.
Born out of the frustration of two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs trying to catch a cab in Paris, Uber's services have mushroomed since being launched in 2010 and are offered in nearly 270 cities worldwide.
Taxi drivers in France pay income tax and welfare charges and, depending on their location, sometimes have to pay hundreds of thousands of euros for an operating licence. They argue they face unfair competition from unlicenced drivers who have no such outgoings and so can undercut them on price.
For its part, Uber argues it is offering a much-needed service that complements licenced taxis and is offering a sideline income for some 10,000 people in France. "We understand that new technologies can be destabilising, particularly for established companies and their employees ... But it is unacceptable to see violence come to the fore, it is up to us to better explain what we are doing and the advantages of the Uber platform."