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Uber under threat as French court backs limits on unlicensed taxis

Thibaud Simphal, General Director of Uber France, poses on Mai 19, 2015 at Uber French headquarters in Paris
Thibaud Simphal, General Director of Uber France, poses on Mai 19, 2015 at Uber French headquarters in Paris AFP / Miguel Medina

France’s highest administrative court on Friday backed restrictions on unlicensed taxi services in a decision that will hit US start-up Uber and could see its services eventually ruled illegal.

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The constitutional council said that unlicensed taxis must return to their bases after dropping off a customer or await new fares from a parking lot, upholding a ban on looking for new clients by driving around as taxis do.

A Paris appeals court had been waiting for the decision before ruling on whether to ban Uber’s unlicensed taxi service, known as UberPOP, which allows individuals to register as an Uber driver using his or her private car.

Uber has been in a state of legal limbo ever since December last year, when a Paris commercial court decided not to ban the service – prompting a protest by taxi drivers who used their vehicles to block traffic on major roadways from Paris’s main airports into the city.

France’s interior ministry then contradicted the court ruling, announcing that UberPOP would be banned as of January 1 in compliance with a new law regulating competition within the taxi industry.

Although the UberPOP service remains available, its drivers have become the targets of police fines since the start of the year, with penalties potentially rising to thousands of euros and even prison sentences.

The appeals court said in March it would wait for the constitutional council’s decision before reconvening in September to make a final decision on UberPOP’s legality.

The case before the appeals court was brought by three competing car services – LeCab, Green Tomato Cars and Transdev Shuttle – and taxi unions.

Uber has faced legal challenges in several countries since its launch in 2009.

Earlier this month, Dutch authorities threatened the company with a €1 million fine if it continues to operate its UberPOP service in the country after Dutch judges banned it in December.

In India, the city government in New Delhi has banned Uber from operating in the capital after a passenger accused one of its drivers of rape.

Judges in Spain and Portugal have also banned Uber's ride-sharing service, while the company has faced significant regulatory hurdles in Germany and Belgium.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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