Two of the top European executives for ride-booking company Uber are in court in France facing criminal charges of running an illegal taxi operation.
They are also accused of commercial deception and violation of French privacy laws by illegally keeping passengers’ personal information.
If found guilty Thibaud Simphal, Uber’s general manager for France, and Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, who heads its Western Europe operation, could be sent to prison for five years and fined 300,000 euros. Uber France also faces a 1.5 million-euro fine.
The court action is being cheered on by licensed taxi drivers.
At the court building Ahmed Senbel, President of FNTI, the National Federation of Independent Taxis, complained: “Uber’s stock market valuation is now more than that of General Motors. So they should pay to France what they owe in taxes and social charges to maintain our country’s social and economic system. We are not against the drivers. We are against this American transport system that doesn’t respect French law.”
The French taxi industry has criticised Uber for not paying licensing fees and accused it of putting passengers at risk by working with untrained and unregistered drivers who are not properly insured.
Uber calls the French system outdated and says it needs “radical” reform to keep up with technological changes.
The company also said the charges against its executives are unclear and the way the two are being prosecuted is questionable.
The San Francisco-based company shut down the French version of its low-cost UberPop service, which connected users to non-professional drivers and which led to the criminal charges.
Taking to the streets
In recent weeks there have been protests in France by taxi drivers, who complain of unfair competition from services such as Uber, and by rival drivers, who say they’re victims of discrimination by the government which has cracked down on drivers, checking documents and vehicles.
Even as the court case, began police and other anti-fraud agents checked taxis and car services outside the Gare de Lyon, one of the largest train stations in Paris.
The French government has kept up its offensive with document checks of drivers suspected to be illegally moonlighting for Uber and similar services.
Several chauffeurs were fined for illegal taxi activity after being caught carrying a single passenger.
The drivers have particular status allowing them to carry a minimum of two passengers, but many skirt the regulations and use platforms like Uber to pick up single passengers.