French Uber protests turn violent

French taxi drivers have burned cars and blocked roads to airports and train stations in protest against ride-booking app Uber, with one protest having to be dispersed with tear gas.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Protests in France against ride-booking app Uber have turned violent as taxi drivers burned cars and blocked access to airports and train stations. Around 2,800 cabbies took part in the strike on Thursday, with more than 30 blockades nationwide, including the access points to Paris' Charles De Gaulle and Orly airports, police sources said.

Taxi drivers in France are furious over an Uber service called UberPop, which puts customers in touch with private drivers at prices lower than those of traditional taxis. Licensed cabbies say the service is endangering their jobs by flooding the market with low-cost drivers.

UberPop has been banned in France since January, but the law has proved difficult to enforce, and the service continues to operate.

One private chauffeur, who said he did not work for Uber "or any other app", was dragged from his van by angry cabbies when he reached a blockade in the west of Paris. They slashed his tyres, smashed a window, and then set it on fire.

"Why did you come to work, you know we're on strike today," shouted one cabbie, while AFP journalists saw another car on fire further down the road.

One driver said the strikers had been driven to desperation.

"Taxi drivers -- alright, they've got big mouths -- but normally they're not aggressive," said Malia, 50, who has been a taxi driver for three years. "But these guys have families to feed, debts. They've been pushed to the brink."

Police eventually fired tear gas and broke up the protest on the western stretch of motorway, clearing burning tyres from the road that rings the capital, but there were later attempts to stall traffic.

"UberPop is illegal. It's the law, and it must be respected. We get the feeling the government is letting this happen," said Rene Pierre-Jean, a member of the CGT union manning a barricade outside the Gare du Nord station in Paris.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called for calm, and said he had told prosecutors to bring a prohibition order against the UberPop service.

Peaceful protests played out at transport hubs in other major cities, including Toulouse and Marseille. Fearing that its professional drivers would be mistaken for UberPop drivers, the private-hire cab firm Allocab told its workers on Wednesday to have passengers ride in the front seat.

Cabbies in France, like their colleagues in several other countries, have held several protests against the app, some of which have turned violent, with Uber clients and drivers reportedly being assaulted.

US-based Uber, which offers several types of ride-sharing services, claims to have 400,000 UberPop users in France. However, the drivers do not pay taxes, do not undergo the 250 hours of training that is mandatory for cabbies, and do not carry the same insurance as taxis.

NSW opposition leader pushes to legalise Uber

New South Wales opposition leader Luke Foley has called on the state government to embrace the digital age, announcing his plans to introduce a private member's Bill to regulate ride-sharing services, such as those offered by Uber.

The state's Labor leader told of his plans in his 2015 NSW Budget reply speech on Thursday. Foley said that ride sharing has already been regulated in more than 24 jurisdictions around the world, and that it is time for NSW to join the list.

"People are voting with their feet -- hundreds of thousands used Uber last year. And the public should be free to choose the services they want without fear of retribution from government.

"The parliament should regulate to protect consumers and drivers by putting in place some basic standards. We need to find ways to encourage and facilitate the sharing economy."

According to an article published on Thursday by Fairfax Media, Uber has reportedly been issued a total of AU$1.7 million in fines in the past year as a result of 1,536 infringements issued by government officials.

Despite a cease-and-desist order having been placed upon the company's Queensland operations on May 21, 2015, the ride-booking service said it has been accessed by more than 1 million Australians.

This is not the first time that Uber has come up against regulatory authorities in Australia. A number of the company's drivers were issued with court attendance notifications from the NSW Roads and Maritime Service earlier this year, as the state's collective Uber fines total tipped the AU$25,500 mark.

Australian court appearances continued in Western Australia, where legal action was taken against the ride-share company for not having the correct licence to operate on the state's roads. Legal action was a result of dozens of people involved with the ride-sharing service allegedly being targeted by the Western Australia Department of Transport.

Just last month, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) classified the service as taxi travel, and mandated that all drivers are to file for an Australian Business Number and register for GST by August 1. Uber said it is considering legal action to appeal the decision.

Uber's legal challenges are spread globally, with the company facing the Californian Labor Commission earlier this month in relation to charges an ex-driver had made against them. The court ruled against the taxi-booking service, ordering that it compensate the ex-employee $4,152.20 for a combination of unpaid driving miles, toll charges, and interest accrued on miscellaneous expenses.

In China, private cars were banned in January from taking part in ride-hailing apps, and the São Paulo Mayor's office in Brazil fined several drivers $900 on average for operating taxi services without legal authorisation in August last year.

Previously, the service was threatened with shutdown in India in October last year if its business model was not altered to abide by local law. As a result of being required to offer consumers a two-step authentication process payment, Uber and Indian payments firm Paytm arranged a mobile wallet to which users can link their credit cards, debit cards, or bank accounts. Following the report that a 26-year-old woman was allegedly raped by an Uber driver in New Delhi, Uber suspended operations in the country's capital until a review of its service was completed. It was relaunched six weeks after this, however, emphasising its enhanced security.

With AAP

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