Skip to main content

French taxi drivers clash with police in anti-Uber strike

French taxi drivers clash with police in anti-Uber strike

/

Taxi unions stage nationwide protest over competition from ride-hailing apps

Share this story

Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

French taxi unions have once again staged a nationwide strike, shutting down roadways across Paris in a protest against ride-hailing companies like Uber. Thousands of taxi drivers are expected to participate in demonstrations across Paris today, disrupting traffic to and from the French capital's two major airports. Protesters burned tires at a major thoroughfare on the western edge of Paris, where police used tear gas to disperse some, and two taxi drivers were injured after a shuttle bus drove through a blockade at Orly airport, French media reported this morning. Paris police say 20 arrests have been made so far.

The unions are calling for an end to non-taxi services that, like Uber and other ride-hailing apps, allow users to book rides with licensed chauffeurs — a category known in France as "voitures de tourisme avec chauffeur" (VTC). A 2014 law aimed at assuring fair competition between VTCs and taxi operators has not been adequately enforced, the unions say, allowing VTCs to eat away at their market. CGT Taxis, one of the syndicates that organized today's strike, says its revenue has dropped by 40 percent due to the rise of ride-hailing apps. Others have estimated their losses at between 20 and 30 percent.

"we are demanding the elimination of VTCs, pure and simple."

"The law has never been enforced, and we think it's unenforceable," says Mohammed Khamedi, secretary of CGT Taxis. "So we are demanding the elimination of VTCs, pure and simple, or compensation" for taxi licenses. (Taxi licenses are issued for free but the government has limited the number in circulation, giving rise to a secondary market where they sell for around €200,000.)

Tuesday's demonstrations coincide with a series of strikes staged by air traffic controllers, civil servants, and teachers across France. It also comes more than a year after French taxi unions staged widespread protests against Uber's low-cost UberPop service (known as UberX in the US), which connected passengers with non-professional chauffeurs. Strikes held in January and June of last year erupted in violence, as taxi drivers set cars on fire and clashed with Uber chauffeurs. Uber suspended the service following the June protests, and it was officially banned under a court ruling handed down in September.

The French government created the VTC class in 2009, as a way to supplement the scarce supply of taxis. At first, the distinction was clear: VTCs could only be reserved in advance, whereas taxis could be hailed from the street. But the rise of apps like Uber, which now has 1.4 million users in France, has dramatically shifted that balance, putting taxis and private chauffeurs in more direct competition with one another.

Uber France spokesman Thomas Meister says today's strike "is not aimed at Uber" specifically, unlike previous demonstrations, saying the taxi unions are targeting "the general organization and structure of the industry." In an email to its French users on Monday, the San Francisco-based company described the strike as an assault on France's growing market for ride-hailing apps, and sought to muster online support to ease regulations.

"The objective of this protest is simple: pressure the government to make it more difficult to access the VTC profession so as to limit competition, while the sector is booming," the email read. The message was signed by Uber and five other French ride-hailing apps, and was sent to the users of all six startups. It was headlined with the hashtag "#NonALaFinDesApplis" ("No to the end of apps"), and urged users to sign a petition asking President Francois Hollande to ease testing restrictions for would-be VTC drivers. The government was supposed to implement new testing requirements for VTC chauffeurs by the beginning of 2016, replacing a 250-hour driving requirement, but it has yet to do so, leaving thousands of applicants in limbo. The site for applicants has been down for several days, displaying a message that says a new site will be available on January 26th (the date of today's strike).

Uber has faced regulatory hurdles throughout the course of its global expansion, and has encountered particularly hostile resistance in France. At the core of this week's strike is the Thévenoud law, passed in October 2014, which imposes restrictions on the way Uber and other ride-hailing apps operate. Under the law, VTC services are forbidden from using geolocation services to show available cars, and chauffeurs are required to return to a home base between rides.

The law was designed to ensure fair competition between France's deeply entrenched taxi firms and an emerging field of Uber-like VTC services. But neither side is happy with it. Uber believes the law is unfair and impractical — the company has challenged it in European court — while taxi unions say the government hasn't done enough to enforce it, and that it's regularly flouted.

 

 

"The Thévenoud law has given taxis the illusion that it would basically protect their monopoly, and that's simply not the fact," Meister said in an interview Monday. "It's just trying to create some balance, in a very clumsy way, in the industry. But taxis are absolutely sure that if the law were to be enforced, then they would have their monopoly back, which is obviously not going to happen."

Last week, Uber announced it would open its platform to taxi drivers, after France's Constitutional Court ruled that chauffeurs can work for both cab companies and VTC services, overturning a provision in the Thévenoud Law. Meister says the expansion would allow taxi drivers to have a second source of income, but it isn't sitting well with taxi unions. Khamedi describes the move as a "provocation," and says his syndicate will not work with Uber.

"We don't work with any company that doesn't participate in the social system in France."

"We don't work with any company that doesn't participate in the social system in France," he says. "They don't have the same constraints."

The government has so far given no indication as to how it will respond to the taxi unions' demands. Following June's protests, two Uber executives were arrested on charges of operating an illegal taxi operation. Ahead of this week's protests, the founders of Heetch, a late-night ride-sharing service for young people, were also taken into custody on similar charges.

"The violence is unacceptable," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told reporters Tuesday. "No cause can justify such violence."

Although unions have historically wielded considerable influence over policymaking, France's economy minister has made a point of nurturing the country's startup industry, as it continues to struggle with high unemployment and anemic growth. Valls, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, and other officials will meet with a delegation of taxi drivers Tuesday afternoon.

"For me, [the taxi strike] is only noise," says Théodore Monzies, founder of the startup Eurecab, a price comparison and ride-booking site for car services in France. He says apps like Uber have blurred the distinction between VTCs and taxi services, and there's little the government can do to restore it. "The trend is moving forward, and I don't see any backward movement."

But the taxi unions, as always, remain determined. "If the government doesn't meet our demands, we will continue," Khamedi says. "We will stay on-site."

 

 

6:43AM ET: This article has been updated to include comments made by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 25 Not just you

E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.