French taxi drivers today blocked roads to airports and train stations in Paris, as part of a nationwide protest against Uber. Thousands of drivers are expected to participate in today's strike in the French capital and other major cities, where tensions between taxi unions and private car services are running high. Protestors burned tires and turned over cars along major thoroughfares, and there have been reported scuffles between taxi drivers and other chauffeurs. Police in riot gear intervened at one point with tear gas, Reuters reports.
French taxi unions have long held grievances against Uber, and the company's UberPop service, in particular, which relies on a network of non-professional drivers. They argue that enlisting amateur chauffeurs who don't have to pay steep licensing fees gives the San Francisco-based company an unfair competitive advantage. A one-time taxi license fee in France can cost up to €240,000 ($270,000). A representative from the FTI taxi union tells Bloomberg that revenues for French taxi drivers have fallen by between 30 and 40 percent over the past two years, due to increased competition from Uber and other ride-hailing services.
Following today's protest, France's interior minister ordered the Paris police to implement a ban on UberPop in the capital. "I have given instructions, considering the grave problems with public order and the development of this illegal activity, to the police prefecture in Paris to ban UberPop activities," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters.
In France, UberPop has been operating in a murky legal space since the beginning of this year, when a new law requiring all chauffeurs to carry licenses and insurance went into effect. French officials have said the service will be illegal under the law, but courts have allowed it to continue pending a ruling on its legality from a constitutional court. The constitutional court began considering the case on Tuesday.
"We are truly sorry to have to hold clients and drivers hostage."
"We are faced with permanent provocation (from Uber) to which there can only be one response: total firmness in the systematic seizure of offending vehicles," Serge Metz, the head of the taxi company G7, said on French television. "We are truly sorry to have to hold clients and drivers hostage. We're not doing this lightly."
There have been reports today of taxi drivers seeking out and harassing Uber employees near Paris' major airports and along major highways, with the blockade forcing some to walk with their luggage to Charles de Gaulle. The strike also appears to have ensnared Courtney Love Cobain, who tweeted a photo from inside a car, saying it was attacked by protesters on her way from the airport. In subsequent tweets, the musician said protesters took her driver "hostage," forcing her to pay someone to take her away by motorcycle.
Today's strike follows a series of altercations between taxi drivers and Uber chauffeurs across France. A 26-year-old man in Lyon said he was attacked Saturday night after telling a taxi driver he would use Uber, because the driver was on strike and refused to take him. In Strasbourg last week, taxi drivers reportedly posed as Uber customers and led drivers to isolated locations to assault them. French taxi syndicates also staged a major protest against Uber last year, which quickly turned violent.
Uber has faced regulatory hurdles and protests across the globe, largely over its insistence that it should be regulated as a technology company rather than a transportation service. French business daily Les Echos today reported that Uber France has in recent weeks begun encouraging licensed professional drivers to begin using UberPop, in an apparent move to appease regulators. In a statement to the paper, the head of Uber France denied that the change is a pre-emptive move to keep UberPop within the law, though the company has capitulated to regulators in Germany, where it agreed to pay commercial license fees amid an ongoing legal dispute.
A spokesperson from Uber France called the Les Echoes report "accurate" while also noting that "this doesn't mean that we're dropping POP, quite the contrary." The spokesperson also condemned the violence against Uber partners today and called the attacking taxi drivers a small (2,800 out of 55,000 "honest taxis") group of "thugs."
Update 7:45 AM ET: This article has been updated to include the statement from the French interior minister and a tweet from Courtney Love Cobain.
Update 12:10 PM ET: This article has been updated to include comments from Uber.
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