OR
Why it’s Just
Fair that Uber’s French Management is Under Legal Pressure
(personal opinion)

The topic in itself is a rather complex one, and it is becoming more and more complex everyday as it is fueled by the usual media caricatured approach, Uber’s active and efficient propaganda and French government ignorance. To try to forge myself an opinion in such environment, I try to prioritize things and get them as simple as possible. And here is my — personal — version of a Maslow’s hierarchy (presented reverse wise) of what is needed to build a sustainable society (well, just in the light of this particular issue of course…)

4. Protect existing businesses

France is fundamentally a very conservative country, and an old and traditional one. Protecting what currently exist is a strong bias of any government and most citizens in the country. Anyone who has wandered around Paris understand how people here like when things are built to last long and don’t embrace change naturally.

But in business, nothing is built to last forever. As much as I understand the need to manage transition as smoothly as could be because many people did put their lives, energy and savings into existing businesses, it is badly flawed to think that retreating behind another Maginot line will save anyone in the current world.

Accept the change, try to influence it by being a leader rather than a forced follower and spin positively the way out of existing businesses by embracing new ones. Easier said than done, but this is not optional: just a way of survival.

3. Let the customers have what they want

Nobody will force feed consumers these days with a bad product. And taxis in France were mostly a bad product. The introduction of Uber and competitors like Chauffeur Privé, Le Cab or others had an almost immediate impact on the service: long-standing expensive, complaining and grumpy taxi drivers turned into service providers just to cope with the quality of service that is the new standard. Incredibly fast demonstration of the superiority of competition vs monopoly.

Taxis (or more exactly taxi companies) sat on their dominant position for too long and did not anticipate what technology could bring to the market, not only reducing costs but first and foremost enhancing the user experience. Now is too late to regret and is time to adapt, coexist or die.

2. Let people make a living with their work

Here is the taxi system’s original sin: decades of bad management by the public authorities creating scarcity on the taxi license market by caving in front of lobbies. Prohibitive cost of licenses (on a grey market which is the direct consequence of such regulation) protects license owners and taxi companies, and keeps away from getting into business people with no initial capital — which is awfully flawed for such a business where revenues should be a direct consequence of one’s hard work only. It created legions of taxi drivers operating in miserable conditions to repay a license or rent it from a monopolistic taxi company.

Opposite to this, Uber et al. allowed plenty of people to get in business rapidly, at almost no cost (other than buying or leasing a car) and enabled them to work hard but make a living. Being a regular Uber user, I have chatted with numerous drivers — almost 100% of them immigrants or with immigrant heritage — and I have been thrilled by the level of enthusiasm the guys were showing, being rightfully proud of being their own boss, working hard and making a good living. Nobody should dare take this away from them. They are happy with open and fair competition, good level of freedom, putting in long hours but receiving corresponding compensation. Liberal principles at their best in my view.

1. Respecting democracy comes first

Because then comes Uber’s original sin: most of Uber’s services are perfectly legal in France. But then a bill was passed ruling the UberPop service out of the scope and declaring it illegal — mostly for unfair competition as non-licensed drivers would not pay social charges (as far as I understood it, but I have to confess I didn’t search long, my point being somewhere else). Liberal principles suit me as long as competition is tough but fair, and Uber didn’t want to cave on what has been ruled as unfair, with regular Uber drivers potentially the most exposed by the way.

I don’t have an opinion on the legal grounds, but I certainly have a strong one on this: respect of the law by everyone and respect of its enforceability are pillars of democracy. It is certainly not Uber’s prerogative to decide which laws are good and which laws are stupid. As well as it is not the taxi drivers prerogative to enforce such laws, especially not with violence.

Anyone can, and might even have the duty to, criticize the law, lobby against it, use all legal ways, campaign against the law maker… but no one is above the current law. Full stop.

Consequences:

  • Should taxi drivers convicted of violence be punished adequately?
    YES, and no anger justifies what they’ve done.
  • Should the law be enforced vis-à-vis UberPop, and — after numerous warnings — if need be, should Uber management be placed in custody? YES, if that’s what the law provides in such case.

I might be wrong, but I think that as of today Uber (the whole service, not just UberPop) is illegal in 4 States in the US. As of today, I don’t see any Uber service in Sioux Falls, SD, because Uber apparently decided to respect South Dakota laws.

Why should it be different in other parts of the world?
Would it be different here if Uber’s top management were to carry a French passport?

I have an opinion on this one.