Minicab attacked in Paris taxi go-slow protest
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A Paris minicab was attacked on Monday by disgruntled taxi drivers as they staged a go-slow protest between the capital’s airports and the city centre.
Traditional licensed taxi drivers are furious that the government has liberalised the taxi market to encourage private hire vehicles, or minicabs, arguing that they create unfair competition.
Kat Borlongan, one of the two passengers in the vehicle that was attacked, tweeted: “Got attacked in an @uber [the name of a minicab firm] by cab drivers on strike near Paris airport: smashed windows, flat tires, vandalized vehicle and bleeding hands.”
She followed it up with a second post: “Attackers tried to get in the car but our brave @uber driver manoeuvred us to safety, changed the tire on the freeway and got us home.”
In a statement later on Monday, the minicab company responded to the attack: "Uber strongly condemns this morning’s incident where two of our users and our driver were confronted with severe violence…That the taxis chose to use violence is unacceptable."
Some 240km of traffic jams
Monday’s strike by licensed cabbies began at dawn, as hundreds of taxis drove slowly from Paris’s main airports to converge on the city centre.
More than 200 vehicles joined the cortege, causing massive disruption including some 242 km of traffic jams around Paris’s busy Périphérique ring road, according to French road agency Bison Futé.
Thousands more taxis were expected to take part in a nationwide protest during the day in cities across France, in particular in Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseille.
Their gripe is the growing number of minicabs, known in France as “Voitures de Tourisme avec Chauffeurs” (VTC), as well as the New Year increase of VAT from 7 percent to 10 percent.
Minicabs a growth industry
VTC companies have blossomed in France since the government relaxed caps on the number of private hire vehicles in 2009.
VTCs do not display a taxi light, have to be pre-booked and are not allowed to pick up customers on the roadside or tout for business in airport terminals – a practice many licensed taxi drivers have accused them of.
“We pay 230,000 euros for a license while VTCs only pay 120 euros,” Dominique Prudhomme, a member of the Force Ouvrier union, told AFP. “You think that’s fair?”
Another cabbie complained that he was engaged in an “unfair battle” with minicabs, whom he accused of openly picking up passengers from the streets.
In a bid to placate traditional taxis, in October the government imposed on VTCs a 15-minute delay between making a reservation and picking up a customer.
But this isn’t enough for France’s taxi unions, who want a 30-minute delay and a minimum charge for taking a VTC of 60 euros per trip.
‘Parisians have no other choice’
Hailing a cab in Paris and in cities across the country can be a challenge, with far fewer licensed vehicles operating than in comparable cities, such as London and New York.
The number of taxi licenses is strictly controlled, with just 55,000 across France, including 20,000 in Paris. There are now 650 VTC companies operating around 12,000 vehicles.
VTC firms believe this is insufficient for the level of demand, and wrote an open letter to French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Monday stating that the government risked caving in to the corporate interests of the big licensed taxi firms - such as G7 in the capital - if they clamped down any further on their freedom to operate.
In October 2013 when the government imposed the 15-minute delay, Benjamin Cardoso, founder of VTC firm Le Cab, told FRANCE 24 that Paris needed another 30,000 pre-booked taxis, adding that there are four times more private cars on the streets of Paris than in central London “because Parisians have no other choice”.
VTCs and traditional taxis could operate together happily, he insisted, and more cabs operating in the capital would reduce the number of private cars in the city while delivering a better service as a result of “competition, which can only be a good thing for everyone”.
“G7 lobbies hard to maintain its monopoly,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why the city is forced to put up with an unsatisfactory service.”