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Travel chaos as France hit by dual rail and taxi strike

© Photo: AFP

Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2014-06-11

France was hit by a double whammy of transport woes on Wednesday, with state rail company SNCF going on strike the same day as a taxi strike to protest against competition posed by minicabs. SNCF said it plans to extend its strike through Thursday.

The rail strike started on Tuesday evening but its effects were not fully felt until commuters began heading to work Wednesday morning.

Only one high-speed intercity TGV out of two or three was running, while regional trains were also affected, particularly in the Paris area.

The Eurostar service connecting Paris and London was running as normal, and three out of four Brussels- and Amsterdam-bound Thalys trains were operational.

Trains to Germany were unaffected, but those going to Spain were disrupted.

The rail strike, described by passenger associations as “incomprehensible”, takes place a week before France's National Assembly examines a proposed railway reform that aims to tackle the sector's soaring debt.

Passengers ‘punished’ for political ends

Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said on Tuesday the railway sector's debt currently stood at more than €40 billion, and would likely soar to €80 billion by 2025 if nothing was done about it.

At the heart of the proposed reforms are plans to open up France’s rail services to competition and plans to unite state-run rail operator SNCF with RFF, the heavily indebted company responsible for the country’s rail infrastructure.

“Striking will solve nothing and will only serve to punish passengers,” said Jean Sivardière of the French FNAUT consumer association. “Reforms are necessary, everyone recognises that, but there are more constructive ways of negotiating with the authorities than making everyone’s lives a misery.”

Sivardière told FRANCE 24 that nothing in the planned reforms would affect SNCF workers’ jobs or status, but that the strike was a protest at the “inevitability” of coming market competition against what is at present a complete state monopoly.

“This is a purely political strike,” he said. “It’s pointless and unfair to punish ordinary people for political ends.”

Taxis fear competition from web apps

Rail passengers who managed to arrive in major terminals such as Paris will be doubly hampered on Wednesday by an almost total lack of taxis.

French cabbies have joined taxi services across Europe, including the UK, Belgium, Spain and Germany, protesting against the exponential rise of minicab services that use advanced mobile phone apps they say are akin to taxi meters, currently only allowed in licensed vehicles.

Particularly in their sights is minicab app Uber, which links passengers to private hire drivers.

A report drawn up by Socialist MP Thomas Thévenoud proposes that cars-on-demand services be allowed to expand but that licensed taxis retain the sole right to picking up passengers on the street.

This doesn’t go anywhere near meeting the concerns of taxi drivers, who feel they are up against unfair competition from a new generation of private hire services and want the use of apps like Uber restricted for use by licensed taxi drivers.
 

Date created : 2014-06-10

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