Paris taxi drivers attacked competitors in a civil war of sorts yesterday when five trade unions declared a day-long national strike to protest against the rise of private chauffeur services, particularly the US company Uber, which is also present in Dublin.
The most graphic description was tweeted by businesswoman Kat Borlongan. “Got attacked in an @uber by cab drivers on strike near Paris airport,” Borlongan wrote at 9.54am. “Smashed windows, flat tires, vandalised vehicle and bleeding hands.”
Ten minutes later, Borlongan tweeted again: “Attackers tried to get in the car but our brave @uber driver manoeuvred us to safety, changed the tyre on the freeway and got us home.” Ms Borlongan’s story was confirmed by Uber’s Paris office.
"Operation snail" disrupted traffic in Paris, Bordeaux, Marseille and Montpellier, despite the presence of police reinforcements. Tens of thousands of French taxi drivers represent a small but powerful lobby which has for decades thwarted attempts to reform the profession.
Passengers reported seeing roadblocks where taxi drivers stopped private chauffeur-driven cars, known as VTCs (véhicules de tourisme avec chauffeur). "First they threw paint," Ms Borlongan's companion Renaud Visage told Le Monde. "They broke passenger windows and tried to force the doors . . . I saw people taken out of their car by taxi drivers. I don't know what they did with them."
Sixty taxi drivers harassed VTC drivers at the Hilton hotel at Orly airport, breaking several rear-view mirrors. When the driver of a “moto-taxi” attempted to defend himself with a pepper spray pistol, he was arrested.
At Porte Maillot, 30 taxi drivers pelted VTCs with firecrackers, eggs and flour. Similar scenes were enacted at the Porte de Clignancourt and the Porte de la Chapelle.
Taxi drivers met at dawn at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports. Two convoys totalling about 1,000 vehicles then converged on Les Invalides, after creating traffic jams on motorways.
Paris taxi licences have been capped at 17,000 for decades, a fraction of the number in other European capitals. G7 and Taxis Bleus, the leading companies, have a near monopoly. G7, which owns Taxis Bleus, was founded by the socialist André Rousselet, who was François Mitterrand's cabinet director. His son Nicolas runs the companies today.
A Paris taxi licence costs between €50,000 and €250,000, while VTCs pay only a small fee. With a subscription to Uber, present in Paris for the last two years, or the French companies Chauffeurprivé, SnapCar or Taxiloc, one clicks on a smartphone app to order a taxi. The screen displays the car’s location, arrival time, and the driver’s name. There are 2,500 such VTCs in Paris.
A communiqué from the taxi drivers said they are fighting “VTC multinationals, financed by Google and Goldman Sachs, organised in a lobby that is destroying jobs and creating economic hardship without concern for French legislation.”
The taxi war has been described as a conflict between old and new economies.