Smartphone-driven Uber is revolutionizing taxi service around the world, and in so doing has unleashed a global backlash that includes violent protests in France, legal barriers in Germany, a criminal investigation in New Delhi and police raids in China.
The common anti-Uber battle cry has been unfair competition, largely from established cab companies that claim Uber’s business model evades regulations to ensure safety and uniform fares.
Last month, French taxi drivers unleashed massive protests across the nation, blocking highways, torching cars and even taking hostages. Two Uber executives were arrested and accused of running an “illicit” business.
While conceding France is a worst-case scenario, Uber says that focusing on a relatively few number of tough global markets obscures growing success stories.
“What we’re starting to see,” said spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian, “as policy makers get to know the service better, as they hear from constituents, riders and drivers … we really start to see some momentum.”
The 5-year-old privately-held Uber now operates in 58 countries and in all but four U.S. states.
In an attempt to restore order to the streets of Paris, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve ordered a new ban on uncertified drivers and said Uber drivers found breaking the law would have their cars impounded. Uber said last week it was suspending its low-cost UberPop service in France.
Another Uber spokesman, Thomas Meister, said the San Francisco-based business anticipated a certain level of push back and planned accordingly.
He said the broad pattern is the company enters a market, meets opposition from taxi drivers, loses initial court cases and then works with authorities to find a way to regulate and tailor services to the location. The company offers several services through its app including food delivery, professional chauffeurs and the best known operation: drivers who ride-share with their own vehicles.
“The situation in France is the worst across Europe,” Meister said. “We are facing a taxi community that is very reluctant to accept any kind of change.”
Even on U.S. soil, Uber is not spared headaches. New York seized nearly 500 cars affiliated with Uber this spring for allegedly picking up fares illegally. On Tuesday, the company offered free UberPool rides to and from City Hall to protest a bill that would cap the number of drivers the company can deploy there.
The firm recently suspended operations in South Florida’s Broward County after complaining that regulations on its drivers there were too onerous.
Uber even faces issues in its home state. The California Labor Commission ruled in June that an Uber driver was an employee and not an independent contractor, a decision that could complicate Uber’s business model. The company is appealing.
Here is a look at some of the other battles waged against Uber as it expands around the world:
BRAZIL. The governing council of São Paulo, one of the world’s largest cities with 20 million people, voted overwhelming to block the use of smartphone-based ride hailing. The city council in the capital of Brasilia did the same. The move by São Paulo requires a second vote and mayoral approval. The Brasilia city council vote goes before a federal judge.
CANADA. An effort by the city of Toronto to obtain an injunction banning Uber operations was rejected by a court last week.
CHINA. A different kind of fight is playing out in China where a local competitor is taking on Uber. Taxi app Didi Kuaidi boasted in a letter to shareholders last week that it has three times the number of daily car trips as Uber in the country. An email by CEO Travis Kalanick said Uber has nearly a million trips a day in China, the company’s most important global market.
ENGLAND. London Mayor Boris Johnson announced last month that he wants Uber drivers to pass geography and English tests in order to operate in the city. Johnson said the measure would help level the playing field for drivers of London’s iconic black cabs who spend up to four years trying to qualify to drive clients around the city. Uber says such restrictions are not a problem.
GERMANY. A Berlin court last year restricted Uber drivers by ruling that non-cabbies who were not carrying a passenger were barred from waiting for passengers. They must instead return to a central dispatch station. Other legal complaints have been filed alleging improper certification or unfair competition.
INDIA. New Delhi police are considering criminal charges against Uber if they find evidence it misrepresented that its service is safe. A top government official called for the company to be banned nationwide after an Uber driver in New Delhi was accused of rape. The service has already been banned in New Delhi, although an Uber spokesperson said drivers are still operating there.
MEXICO. Taxi drivers have protested and vowed to “hunt down” Uber drivers. But the ride-sharing app may soon get some good news in that nation’s capital after receiving endorsements from Federal Commission on Economic Competition and Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission.
SPAIN. A judge has temporarily blocked Uber from operating in the country after concluding its services constituted unfair competition.
SOUTH AFRICA. Uber has asked for police protection of drivers and passengers in Johannesburg from taxi drivers angry about the service cutting into their business.