Uber Execs Arrested in France after Luddite Protests

Yesterday, the Uber France CEO and Uber Western Europe’s general manager were arrested in Paris. Both are charged with running an illegal taxi business and will go on trial in September. News of the arrests came only a few days after violent anti-Uber protests across France. The arrests and the recent protests are only the latest examples of 21st Century Luddism and lawmakers’ unwillingness to keep up with popular and innovative technological changes.

Taxi drivers in France, who last week set at least one car ablaze, erected barricades, and attacked Uber drivers are not happy about what they see as the unfair competition posed by UberPop, Uber’s European ridesharing service. According to a representative from the FTI taxi union, French taxi drivers have experienced between a 30 percent and 40 percent decline in revenue in the last two years.

If French taxi drivers want to survive in the long term perhaps they should consider developing an app to rival Uber’s or changing their business model.

French officials are not happy either. Following last Thursday’s protest Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve ordered police in Paris to implement an UberPop ban. Two hundred police officers have reportedly been tasked with tracking down drivers using UberPop. A court ruled last December that UberPop could operate in Paris. However, the French Interior Ministry claims that UberPop violates regulations that came into effect at the beginning of this year.

Uber has continued to offer UberPop in France amid the legal challenges and protests. Its behavior may be perceived by some as arrogant, but that hasn’t stopped the San Francisco-based technology company from attracting 400,000 French UberPop users. Whatever one might think about Uber’s strategy in France and elsewhere around the world, it is clear that the company is at least as good at making customers fall in love with its product as it is at frustrating regulators and taxi companies.

It is easy to see why taxi drivers in France are upset about the rise of Uber. UberPop drivers are not complying with the same regulations governing taxis. At first glance it might seem that Uber and taxi companies are basically the same and that Uber is unfairly flouting taxi regulations. But there is an important difference between Uber and taxi companies: UberPop drivers are using their own vehicles on their own time. Uber provides drivers and passengers with a technology that lets them find each other. Unsurprisingly, this innovation has proven popular not just in France but around the world.

The technology that allows Uber to operate is not going anywhere. No matter how many cars French taxi drivers set on fire or how many regulations French lawmakers pass, demand for Uber’s technology will remain high.

If French taxi drivers want to survive in the long term perhaps they should consider developing an app to rival Uber’s or changing their business model. The absurd and embarrassing Luddite behavior on French streets last week and the arrest of Uber executives ought to prompt French lawmakers to consider a policy of taxi deregulation that will allow taxis to compete more easily with Uber. Unfortunately, French regulators and officials have a history of preferring protectionism over promoting innovation.

Matthew Feeney is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute.