Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Uber Drivers Face Criminal Probes From Finland’s Police

  • Drivers being probed for not having the required taxi permits
  • Uber remains available in Finland, but drivers risk fines

Uber drivers in Finland are facing possible criminal prosecution and hefty fines as part of a police crackdown against drivers who lack the required taxi permits.

Pekka Seppala, an inspector at the Helsinki Police Department, said in an interview that about 50 drivers in the city are currently being investigated. Uber Technologies Inc.’s app remains available in Helsinki -- there’s no law against it as is the case in other cities around the world -- but drivers are required to have a permit, which few drivers have, according to the police.

"In all the cases we have had the drivers have not had a taxi permit," said Seppala. "According to my information all those suspected of providing illegal taxi services do not have a taxi permit.”

The issue in Finland centers around a product called UberPop, which is akin to UberX in the U.S., allowing unlicensed drivers to use their own cars to chauffeur others around. Uber performs background checks on the drivers before they can participate, and also ensures the cars are up to a certain quality and covered by insurance. Uber suspended the UberPop service in Paris after it faced legal challenges, as well as in Sweden and Hungary. Uber also operates its traditional black car service in Finland for licensed drivers.

"It’s disappointing that there’s a return to enforcement just when modern ridesharing regulation is being prepared by the Ministry of Transport for the Finnish Government. That new regulation is clearly needed with more than 100,000 Finns having downloaded Uber,” the San Francisco-based company said in a statement. It said that the Finnish transportation ministry has proposed new rules that would provide a waiver for some drivers who earn less than 10,000 euros ($11,283) annually, particularly those in less populated areas.

In the meantime, officers in Helsinki have been pulling over suspected UberPop drivers to see if they have a license. “Those who get caught out there, if a police patrol realizes that it’s a question of providing taxi rides without the appropriate taxi permit, then the police will file a report of the suspected offense," Seppala said. Drivers could face fines equal to the amount they earned while driving for Uber, according to YLE, the Finnish news service that first reported the police investigations.

Since its founding in 2009, Uber has been as good at attracting controversy as raising billions of dollars in venture capital funding. Taxi drivers in Paris clashed with police during a protest against Uber earlier this year, while governments in Spain, Thailand and elsewhere have at one time or another banned the ride-hailing service.

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