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Uber suspends low-cost service in France in the name of safety

Ride-sharing company halts UberPop -- the subject of riots by taxi drivers last week -- until a French court decides whether it's constitutional.


Taxi drivers demonstrating against Uber in France blocked traffic and set fire to tires last week. Uber has suspended the service they were protesting. Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

Following a week of rioting by Parisian taxi drivers, Uber announced Friday that it's suspending its controversial UberPop service in France, beginning at 8 p.m. local time, until a court rules on its constitutionality.

"It's a tremendously sad day for our 500,000 French UberPop passengers, as well as the drivers who used the platform," a spokesman for the San Francisco-based company said in a statement. "However, safety must come first."

UberPop is Uber's least expensive ride-sharing service. Anyone can register to provide UberPop rides; it doesn't require training or an expensive taxi license. This is what's made it a particularly thorny service among taxi drivers who staged protests last week in Paris, blocking access to airports. During the fracas, 10 people were arrested, seven police officers were injured and 70 cars were damaged, according to AFP.

Some French authorities and the cabbies say Uber is operating an illegal taxi business and isn't adhering to the same rules and regulations as cabs, which means unfair competition. Uber says it's not a transportation or taxi service, but rather a technology business since it operates a smartphone platform instead of managing a fleet of drivers. France's constitutional court is set to rule on the UberPop case in the next three months.

In a separate case, two Uber executives in France were arrested this week and ordered to stand trial in September on charges related to the company's practices there.

Uber has regularly tussled with French authorities over the last year. The country's National Assembly signed a bill into law last September that banned transportation companies' use of GPS systems that alert users of nearby cars for hire -- in effect crippling Uber's service. In March, Uber's Paris office was raided by police. In April, Uber began to fight back and filed a complaint against France with the European Union, claiming the country was violating EU law with its crackdown on the ride-hailing service.

The tensions spotlight a culture clash in France, where workers' jobs are protected and where laws, such as restrictions on baguette ingredients and a ban on most Sunday shopping, often enforce traditions. Companies like Uber represent a more freewheeling, capitalist approach. Uber embraces the Silicon Valley "disruption" religion and promises 50,000 new jobs in Europe, but that message doesn't resonate with today's taxi drivers.

"We understand that new technology is disruptive: not just for established companies, but for the people who work in them and their families," Uber's statement reads. "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."

France isn't the only European country Uber has battled as it attempts to expand its ride-hailing service. In countries, including the UK, Belgium, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, the company has set up shop before asking local governments for permission to operate. That aggressive strategy has helped Uber grow from a small San Francisco startup in 2009 to a service found in 57 countries. But it's also infuriated authorities with this approach.

CNET's Stephen Shankland and Dara Kerr contributed to this report.

UberPop is the least expensive tier of service from Uber. Screenshot Stephen Shankland/CNET