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Uber hits road block in France as taxi lobby gains upper hand

A new law in France includes several provisions, but one is especially damaging to Uber: no sharing location via GPS.


Uber's car service has once again hit a snag in Europe. This time, France that has taken the wheels off its ride.

On Thursday, France's National Assembly voted in favor of the country's politically influential taxi lobby by signing into law a bill that will make it exceedingly difficult for ride-sharing services like Uber, AlloCab and SnapCar to continue operating in the country. While the bill includes restrictions on both taxis and car services, called VTC (voitures de tourisme avec chauffeur) in France, the most impactful regulation in the law prevents VTC services from using GPS systems to alert users to the location of nearby cars via smartphone.

Uber, along with competing ride-sharing services, relies on GPS technology to show riders the location of drivers -- letting riders hail the nearest car with their smartphone. It also helps determine the wait time for a driver to pick up riders. Without GPS, Uber is essentially unable to provide its service -- at least in the way it's been developed so far -- and could be dead in the water in France.

Uber has faced significant scrutiny in France, with taxi drivers holding protests and bringing traffic to a gridlock in Paris earlier this year. Taxi organizations in France and other parts of the world see Uber and other ride-sharing services as a major threat. These groups have lobbied governments to ban some or all of Uber's services, and in some countries, they've been successful.

Earlier this month, Germany ruled that Uber should be banned over alleged regulatory violations. Just this week, the South Korean capital Seoul promised to take stern action against Uber if it launches its UberX service, a low-cost option that allows any driver to use their own vehicle to provide rides, in the city.

Despite these issues, Uber is expanding rapidly. Last month, it announced an expansion into 24 more markets, bringing its total to 204 cities in 45 countries. Uber claims to cover 55 percent of the US population with its offering.

Speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco earlier this month, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said he can understand why taxi companies are taking issue with his service.

"The nature of this business is that this is so disruptive, so insanely disruptive that we've got a lot of incumbents and a lot of people to sway from the other side," he said during the conference.

In an e-mailed statement to CNET on Friday, an Uber spokesperson took a harder line against France's decision, saying that the new regulations hurt competition and consumers in the country.

"Limiting consumer choice is bad for consumers, bad for drivers and bad for France and that is precisely what this law does," the spokesperson said. "In contrast, with innovation and competition everyone wins. France is a progressive country and shouldn't be left behind as Europe embraces new and innovative technologies. Citizens are voting for change with their fingers by downloading apps like Uber, which have vastly improved on entrenched transportation options. French parliamentarians should respond with equally smart policies, embracing tomorrow's smart cities, today."

Uber did not say specifically how it plans to respond.

(Via Engadget)