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Uber fined $907,000 in France, adding to UberPop woes in Europe

Uber faces fines in France for how it operated UberPop, the cheaper version of its premium services UberX and Uber Black. Others, like Lyft, have also been restricted from operating in certain areas as they look to expand.

Michel Euler/AP/File
Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, general manager for western Europe of California-based Uber, listens during a round table discussion in Paris, France (Aug. 30, 2015). Uber could face millions of euros in damages and fines and Gore-Coty and Thibaud Simphal , two of its top European executives could lose their jobs in a French court ruling on Thursday June 9, 2016.

Nearly a year after Uber suspended UberPop in France, the cheaper version of services like UberX and Uber Black is still causing the ride-hailing company trouble.

A French court handed Uber a $907,000 fine over allegations of deceptive and illegal business activity on Thursday, stemming from its operation of UberPop. Regional Uber executive Pierre-Dimitry Gore-Coty and Uber's France general manager Thibaud Simphal were also handed fines, although they did not receive jail time. Half of the allocated fines carry the possibility of being suspended, pending Uber’s future conduct.

UberPop was introduced in Paris in 2014, offering cheaper rides and smaller cars. It also offered fewer protections for riders: Unlike UberX or Uber Black, UberPop allowed anyone, regardless of licensing, to become a driver using their own vehicle. France ultimately banned UberPop in January 2015, citing drivers’ lack of insurance as a major concern. 

Uber's legal difficulties continued when it introduced UberPop to Brussels, the Netherlands, and Spain. In November 2015, Uber shut down UberPop in the Netherlands after a Dutch court banned the service, saying UberPop drivers lacked professional licenses. In Brussels, Uber faces a $13,800 fine if a car is ever found operating under the UberPop umbrella. UberPop is also banned in Germany.

These restrictions may make it harder for Uber to expand in Europe, but the company faces challenges in the United States, too.

Uber's driver screening process came under two separate lawsuits in the US this year. The company has asserted that its background checks are the most thorough in the industry despite not requiring fingerprints from its drivers like traditional taxi companies. Instead, Uber relies on a computer criminal background check that only goes back seven years.

In February, Uber paid $28.5 million to settle a lawsuit originally filed in 2014. The lawsuit alleged that not only were Uber’s statements regarding its background checks misleading, but so was the language surrounding the fees passengers paid in order to offset the costs of running those checks.

In April, Uber settled a separate lawsuit, brought by the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, for $10 million and stopped characterizing its background checks as "industry-leading." Uber also renamed its “safe ride fee” a “booking fee.”

Still, Uber maintains that fingerprint-based background checks can be inefficient, and even discriminatory. In January of this year, Uber began an initiative that would allow convicted felons whose crimes have either been reduced to or reclassified as misdemeanors to become drivers, although more serious felonies, such as physical violence, would still disqualify someone from becoming a driver.  

Uber isn’t the only ride-hailing service that faces legal challenges in its attempts to expand. Lyft, Uber's chief competitor, has problems of its own. Like Uber, Lyft is banned from operating within Austin’s city limits.  Both companies are also barred from making pickups at certain airports throughout the country, including Orlando International Airport. The companies are also on a tight leash at California airposts. At many, Uber and Lyft drivers are not permitted to make pickups or drop-offs unless they have a placard.

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