Uber fined €1.2m in France as protests continue

San Francisco's Uber has been fined €1.2 million for skirting rules that prevent the startup's drivers from picking up street-hailed trips.

French taxi drivers have extended anti-Uber protests to a second day as news emerged that a Paris court had fined the controversial ridesharing service for skirting rules in place to prohibit its drivers from touting directly for business on the streets.

The fine of €1.2 million followed a complaint from the traditional taxi industry federation that Uber and others were flouting rules that limit alternative cab services to pre-booked business.

Such rules are in place to effectively keep hail-down business for the traditional licensed taxis.

An Uber spokesman on Wednesday confirmed that the court had imposed the €1.2 million fine and said his company was examining the issue.

The matter did not challenge Uber's mobile phone application and concerned only the written information the firm supplies to its drivers, the spokesman said.

The news came amid protests by traditional taxi drivers who partially blocked roads on the edge of Paris and other spots for a second consecutive day in the latest outcry against what they said is unfair competition from the likes of Uber.

Previously, protests against UberPop turned violent in France, with taxi drivers burning cars and blocking access to airports and train stations.

Around 2,800 cabbies took part in the strike in June, with more than 30 blockades nationwide, including the access points to Paris' Charles De Gaulle and Orly airports. Police eventually fired tear gas and broke up the protest on the western stretch of motorway.

"UberPop is illegal. It's the law, and it must be respected. We get the feeling the government is letting this happen," Rene Pierre-Jean, a member of the CGT union, said.

At the time, Uber claimed to have had 400,000 UberPop users in France, with the protest a result of Uber drivers not paying taxes, not holding appropriate insurance, and not undergoing the 250 hours of training that is mandatory for cab drivers in the country.

UberPop was deemed to be illegal in France in January last year, but has continued operating regardless.

The controversial app also came up against authorities in Brussels in September, when a Belgian court gave UberPop 21 days to close its Brussels operation. The ban followed one handed down to Uber in April 2014 which, like the French ban, was ignored.

In July, GMB, one of the UK's largest trade unions, announced that it was taking legal action against Uber, demanding that Uber drivers be provided with the national minimum wage, paid leave, and rest breaks.

Dutch judges in December banned UberPop from taking bookings via its smartphone app and threatened the company with fines of up to $123,000, saying that unlicensed drivers were breaking the law.

A defiant Uber reacted in a statement saying it "will continue to offer UberPop".

Uber's legal issues extend worldwide, with the São Paulo City Council voting in favour of a bill to restrict the operation of Uber-like services in the Brazilian city. The vote followed months of wrangling between the startup and the union representing taxi drivers in the city.

Despite intervention from regulatory bodies and numerous fines issued to Uber drivers in Australia, the New South Wales government gave the green light to Uber on Sydney's streets in December, following on from the Australian Capital Territory allowing the service to operate in the nation's capital in October.

In July, Shanghai local authorities increased fines on both drivers and companies providing ridesharing services, after China imposed a ban on private cars using Uber earlier in the year.

As a result, drivers in Shanghai who utilise Didi Kuaidi and Uber to provide taxi services face penalties and a 10,000 yuan fine, as well as the suspension of their driver's licence for up to six months. The taxi-hailing app platforms will be fined 100,000 yuan for each case as well.

Also on Thursday, GrabTaxi -- Uber's rival in Southeast Asia -- rebranded as Grab.

The new Grab branding covers the company's taxi, private car, motorcycle taxi, social carpooling, and last mile delivery services.

According to Grab, which launched in 2012, it currently has 200,000 drivers and its app has clocked more than 11 million downloads.

"We've grown over the years and we're now much more than a taxi app. This new brand is an important evolution that represents our goal to outserve our customers. We are not only providing passengers with a transport service, we are saving them time and ensuring they have a safe ride," Grab CEO and co-founder Anthony Tan said.

"Grab aims to make transportation accessible to everyone in Southeast Asia. We have set the benchmark in the industry, with the most number of transport services that cater to all price points, all available in one app. We have something for everyone -- and are committed to delivering the best possible user experience."

With AAP

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