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Uber launches low-cost service in three new French cities

Britta Pedersen, DPA, AFP | Popular app-based car service Uber in Germany in 2014

App-based car service Uber announced on Monday the launch of its popular low-cost rideshare service UberPOP in three new cities in France – Marseille, Nantes and Strasbourg – despite a controversial law essentially banning it.

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UberPOP, which connects passengers with unprofessional drivers, was banned in France on January 1 after parliament passed a law late last year regulating competition within the country’s taxi industry.

But Uber, which is known for its no-holds-barred approach to business, has continued to advertise the low-cost service on its website, encouraging its drivers to keep working while it appeals the legislation.

Now, the San Francisco-based company has gone a step further by launching the controversial rideshare service in Marseille, Nantes and Strasbourg.

“From the shores of the Mediterranean to the banks of the [western French River] Erdre to the heart of Alsace [in eastern France], a single application is all that’s needed to get around town!” the company said in a statement on its website.

The aggressive move is a sign that the company has every intention of expanding its operations in France, despite the legal challenges it faces.

“We’re patiently pursuing growth in France, a market that has an enormous appetite for our product,” Alexandre Molla, Uber France’s expansion director told AFP.

Upon learning of Uber’s new venture, around 30 city taxi drivers in the western city of Nantes entered a hotel where the company was recruiting new employees carrying posters that declared, “UBERPOP = illegal employment”. A delegation of city taxi drivers were also scheduled to hold a meeting at the local prefecture at 2pm local time.

Meanwhile in the south of France, taxi drivers gathered at a hotel in central Marseille to discuss the issue.

“We pay for social charges, a license, credit, insurance. They pay nothing, it’s a scandal,” Rachid Boudjema, a taxi drivers’ union leader, told journalists.

Taxi drivers in the northeastern city of Strasbourg had yet to respond to the news.

Before UberPOP was officially banned in January, taxi drivers in the capital Paris had staged a number of angry protests against the low-cost service, which they accused of unfair competition.

Uber, which operates in 58 countries and is worth an estimated $50 billion according to US media reports, claims more than a million customers in France alone, 400,000 of which use UberPOP.

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