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France

After taxis, French Uber drivers launch their own protest

© Britta Pedersen, DPA, AFP | Uber's app isn't just worrying taxi drivers

Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2016-02-05

After a headline-grabbing taxi protest last week against the inexorable rise of private chauffeur apps like Uber, some French drivers will launch a counter demonstration on Wednesday.

The drivers are worried that the government, which promised it would increase spot checks on minicabs potentially breaking the law, is too keen to appease the protesting taxi drivers.

Others, who blame the application companies for making a bad situation worse, are boycotting the event.

The demonstration is being actively supported by the app companies – including US giant Uber and French app Chauffeurs Privées – who have called on their drivers, and companies that use their services, to take part.

“We need a real debate over how we can repay taxi drivers the cost of their licenses, and for private-hire drivers to have a future,” Joseph François, protest organiser and head of the Alternative Mobilité Transport (AMT) association, told reporters.

Taxi licences, which are sold by retiring cabbies to youngsters entering the market, can fetch up to 240,000 euros, while the required training to become a private hire driver costs less than 2,000 euros.

But Wednesday’s protest is not supported by some VTC drivers who say they will be “counter-productive”, while apps such as Uber “represent unbridled capitalism that is exploiting a generation of drivers”.

“Companies like Uber make vast amounts of money, while expecting drivers to provide a service for peanuts,” Sayah Baaroun, head of VTC union Unsa SCP-VTC, told FRANCE 24. “All they want to do is expand, regardless of the impact. They are capitalist sharks, pure and simple.”

There are some 17,000 taxis in the French capital, which – unlike VTCs – have access to priority lanes and can use cab ranks at train stations and airports. They are also legally permitted to roam the streets for customers, unlike Uber.

There are “probably twice that number” of VTCs in Paris, and their number has exploded since the introduction of apps such as Uber, according to Baaroun.

“It is impossible to know exactly how many there are. There is no real limit on their number, while companies like Uber are not transparent about how many drivers use their service. It is an open bar, pure capitalism – and it’s no wonder the taxis are upset.”

Baaroun said that Wednesday’s protest would lead to tit-for-tat demonstrations and would only drive the wedge between taxi drivers and private-hire drivers ever deeper.

“France needs taxis, and it also needs VTCs,” he said. “But it doesn’t need so many that the price is driven down and taxis are forced out of business. We need a legally limited number of VTCs, we need the taxis to understand that we are not against them, and we need dialogue and mediation. A protest will be completely counter-productive.”

“But above all, we don’t need companies like Uber telling us what we should be protesting for or against,” he said. “We need to have pride in what we are doing, and we need to find a way to work in harmony with taxis. Demonstrating is not the answer.”

Uber on the defensive

Last year Uber was forced to withdraw its “UberPop” app which it said was a ride-sharing service but in practice allowed anyone with a car to take bookings just like a regular Uber driver.

The service was officially banned in January 2015, although Uber continued offering the app for several months, sparking violent protests by taxi drivers in June.

Uber, which is worth an estimated $50 billion, finally shut down the app in July 2015 after two of its French executives were arrested and charged with "misleading commercial practices (and) complicity in the illegal exercise of the taxi profession”.

Last week Uber was ordered to pay €1.2 million to the French National Union of Taxis (UNT) after a court upheld a complaint that Uber drivers were acting as traditional taxis by waiting in the street in the hope of picking up passengers.

The UNT accused Uber France of being "ambiguous" in its communications with drivers about the rules for VTCs, which under French law must head back to their garages after each fare rather than park or circulate on public roads.

Uber, whose French press office could not be reached for comment, has in the past denied the charges, saying it "regularly informs" its drivers of the need to return to their garages after a journey.

Date created : 2016-02-02

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