Uber blacks out app in Paris to protest government, taxi opposition

Restrictions on drivers and car-hailing services could leave 10,000 drivers out of a job, Uber says.

French taxis have taken to the streets to protest Uber. Now Uber is protesting their protest.

Christophe Petit Tesson, EPA/Corbis

Ride-hailing service Uber shut down its Paris operations for four hours today and asked customers to publicize its fight with a French government showing support for the traditional taxi business.

The company, standing behind drivers' opposition to the French prime minister's plans to crack down on its business, shut down its car service between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. local time on Tuesday.

"We understand that this can be very annoying for many of you, and please excuse us," Uber said in an email to users in the French capital. "But the prime minister's decision would lead to 10,000 drivers unemployed."

The political wrangling shows how deep the challenges are for Uber as it tries to rewrite the rules of transportation. With 2 million rides per day, the company has won over the masses but crystallized opposition from traditional taxi drivers. Now Uber is trying to convert its customer loyalty into political pressure.

Uber, like Chauffeur-Privé, Allocab, SnapCar and other companies offering on-demand rides from independent drivers, objects to new government plans for regulations favoring traditional taxi drivers. Two weeks ago, those taxi drivers snarled Paris in three days of strikes, but independent drivers launched a road-clogging protest of their own on February 3.

Now instead of disrupting traffic and stranding tourists and business people traveling to and from airports, Uber is seeking to rally customers to its cause. Two weeks ago, it encouraged customers to sign a letter opposing the new regulatory push, and today it's trying to get them to support drivers on social media. The tactic avoids angering non Uber-using Parisians who don't enjoy strikes that block roads, but will still help the company apply political pressure.

San Francisco-based Uber, which now operates in 300 cities and 58 countries around the world, faces regulatory hurdles in every market. This is especially true of major cities like Paris that have a large, established and organized taxi industry. From India to Kenya to the UK, taxi drivers feel that Uber's operations hurt them, particularly as the service tends to undercut prices.

In France, the government is seen to be bowing to pressure from the taxi industry. It has made it harder for private-hire drivers to get the necessary licenses and is attempting to enforce a legal provision requiring drivers to return to a garage between fares if they don't already have another reservation in hand.

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