“You are witnessing what is perhaps the end of UberPOP,” announces the police captain in charge of Parisian taxis, Thierry Pujol. On patrol in Paris, France since the beginning of the week, the force didn’t find any UberPOP drivers, cursed by taxi drivers and forbidden by the authorities.
At the entrances to the Lyon and Bercy train stations, police officers, carrying cell phones equipped with the UberPOP mobile app, are unable to find any available vehicles. “At this time, there aren’t a lot of trips taking place since the decision was made on Thursday to forbid them,” explains Mr. Pujol, who put together this specialized team again (after a hiatus) three years ago.
This brigade was first created in 1938 and is a part of the Police Prefecture’s Department for Public Order and Traffic (DOPC). The group is made up of 83 officers, nicknamed “Boers,” and was reinforced by 200 extra police officers on Saturday in order to multiply the number of checks for illegal drivers.
Five days after a violent national protest held by taxi drivers for unfair competition, UberPOP drivers, who don’t have a professional status, rarely dare to take their cars on the road anymore.
On board a dozen unmarked cars, brigades of two or three undercover police officers ride around places where passengers are typically picked up and dropped off. “It is at the moment when a passenger gets into or gets out of a vehicle that we are able to intervene,” explains the Captain Pujol.
“Before, it was simpler, we found them thanks to the mobile app set up on the dashboard and the passenger sitting in the backseat. Now, they hide their phones and the passengers sit in the front,” specifies “Boer” Sylvain Damotte.
For the past few months, a game of cat and mouse has been played between police officers and drivers. “Our car, for example, is known to drivers. They quickly sent out a photo of it in order to warn others,” Damotte continues while parking in front of Lyon train station. A black sedan stops within distance of the police officers and picks up a young woman carrying an enormous backpack. Immediately two officers, wearing orange armbands with the inscription “Police,” exit and proceed to inspect the vehicle.
“Are you using a mobile app? Which one, UberPOP?” inquires Captain Pujol. Taken aback and a bit panicked, the driver responds in the affirmative. After verifying, the police officers discover that the driver and his client are actually using the legal application UberX, whose services are insured by professional drivers.
“I have been working for three days; I don’t know the difference between UberX and UberPOP,” explains the worried driver, only about twenty years old.
“I haven’t been following the news and in any case, I don’t know the difference between UberX and UberPOP. If I can download an application legally, I don’t question the legality of the service,” points out the passenger, who is returning from two weeks of vacation in Mexico and is a bit disoriented by the unexpected police inspection. Finally, the black sedan, which the professional driver had not reported to his professional society, leaves without its passenger. A police officer helps to find her a free taxi.
In total, 391 tort actions were discovered by the “Boers” since May 2014, the majority concerning UberPop drivers. Users of this criticized mobile app risk spending up to a year in prison and a 15,000 euro fine (roughly $16,500), not taking into account the confiscation of their vehicle and telephone.
“Time will tell us whether or not this is really the end, or if it is only part of the storm. But the media outcry surrounding Taxis vs. Uber war and the multiplication of inspections have led to strong repercussions,” concludes Captain Pujol before climbing back into his unmarked car.
Is Uber facing persecution in your community? What do you think of the “war” between Taxis and Uber in France? Do you think shutting down UberPOP is justified, or is the backlash an unnecessary government intervention into a consumer-oriented shared economy? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in French, here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.