This week it was learned that Uber will not be re-opening its UberPOP service, its peer-to-peer service that launched February of 2014, and received subsequent attention earlier this year when drivers were taken hostage by taxi drivers, ultimately resulting in the French government putting the squeeze on UberPop in the form of arresting Uber’s country manager for France & their EMEA director, also based in Paris. In the wake of this summer’s protests, Heetch, a Paris-based service that allowed young people to get a ride home in Paris after the metro stopped running, was scooped up in the battle.
Despite efforts to distinguish a different between UberPop’s 24-hour service and Heetch’s nocturnal, donation-based system, Heetch, too, has seen its drivers arrested, attacked, and now is seeing its livelihood threatened. The service currently has 250,000 users, more than 5,000 drivers & manages 40,000 rides a week, and employees 20 people in France. Despite its ‘made in France’ origins, there doesn’t seem to be a way (reasonable or otherwise) to allow Heetch to operate without opening up the possibility of Uber reopening UberPop under the same conditions.
Personally, while I like the Heetch team, I think that this was inevitable. Last year there were rumors circulating that Blabalcar, who has avoided short-distance ride-sharing in favor of long-distance ride-sharing (city-to-city travel instead of intra-city travel), was looking at acquiring Heetch. It made sense that Blablacar would look to have short-distance travel, and Heetch’s donation-based payments system lined up well with Blablacar’s “split the gas/toll costs” model that has helped them avoid getting swept up with Uber in regulatory battles; however, allegedly the deal broke down due to a difference in visions between Blablacar & Heetch’s founders.
Uber’s ‘scorched earth’ policy around launching in new markets has always been a source of criticism from the tech community (not to mention regulatory bodies); however, in the way that they are impeding the growth of other players in the market, they are beginning to look a lot more like the Taxi Industry they are trying to disrupt than I think anyone expected.