Taxi protests against ride-app Uber threaten European gridlock
Drivers say applications like Uber are breaking local taxi rules across the European Union
Taxi driver puts his feet up during a demonstration along the Mall in central London. Photograph: Luke MacGregor/Reuters
Commuters face traffic chaos in London, Berlin, Paris and Madrid today as taxi drivers mount a protest against Uber, a US car service which allows people to summon rides at the touch of a button.
Paris commuters faced gridlock getting into the city this morning when taxis slowed traffic on major arteries into the centre. In London, up to 12,000 taxi drivers plan to tie up the streets around Trafalgar Square, just a stone’s throw from prime minister David Cameron’s official residence, from 2 pm.
Taxi drivers across Europe say applications of companies like San Francisco-based Uber are breaking local taxi rules across the European Union and threatening their livelihoods.
Uber, valued last week at $18.2 billion just four years since its 2010 launch and backed by investors such as Goldman Sachs and Google, contends its smartphone application complies with local regulations and that they are being targeted because of their success in winning customers.
“They’re killing us off, starving us out,” said Mick Fitz, who has been driving a London black taxi for years. He and other black cab drivers allege Uber’s technology is effectively a taximeter and thus contravenes a 1998 British law reserving the right to use a meter for licensed black taxis.
“With their taximeter, their apps that they use, their technology, those are taximeters basically, which by law only we are allowed to use,” Mr Fitz said.
Uber has touched a raw nerve in Europe by bringing home the dangers of technological advances to one of the world’s most visible trades.
A variety of apps for summoning taxis have threatened the traditional taxi model in European cities such as London where strict rules govern which cars can stop on the street to pick up hailing customers and which cars have to be pre-booked.
Uber has expanded rapidly since it was launched by two US technology entrepreneurs, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, and now operates in 128 cities across 37 countries.
“What you are seeing today is an industry that has not faced competition for decades. Now finally we are seeing competition from companies such as Uber which is bringing choice to customers,” Uber’s regional general manager for Western Europe, Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, said.