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France proposes fund to repay taxi licenses

AFP archive | Taxis block the Paris Périphérique ring road in January 2016.

The French government said Monday it would support the creation of a fund to help retiring cabbies pay off the huge cost of their licenses in a bid to placate taxi drivers angry at the growing threat from private hire services like Uber.

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In a “roadmap” presented to taxi companies and cabbies’ unions on Monday, French Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said he hoped a dedicated fund would guarantee drivers get back the same amount of money that it cost to buy the licences, plus inflation.

However, he ruled out any public funds being used and said the money would be raised through contributions by taxi firms and by taxes on private hire vehicles, called VTCs in France.

The exorbitant cost of taxi licenses is a key grievance against the private hire services, which do not have to pay anything to start driving clients. The average cost of a license in Paris is €160,000, although these can sell for much more as drivers trade them between each other.

It is common for drivers to take out loans for their licenses and then sell them to new drivers when they retire. They say this investment is threatened by the growth of services such as Uber and Le Cab.

Exasperated by what they say is unfair competition and a lack of state intervention, cabbies have staged a number of debilitating strikes and go-slow protests, blocking busy roads and airports in recent months.

Some taxi drivers gave Vidalies’ scheme a cautious welcome after it was announced on Monday.

“The fact that they guarantee they'll buy back the licence is a good thing,” one driver told FRANCE 24.

Another was less convinced: “What is important for taxi drivers is not [for a fund] to buy back the licences, but to find a solution for the future of the taxi industry.”

Vidalies hopes his road map will become a solid proposal by the summer. There are 55,000 taxi drivers in France, and a fund to guarantee the cost of their licenses would require anywhere between €2 and €5 billion.

In a bid to assuage the mounting discontent from taxi drivers, the French state in late December imposed a mandatory 15-minute delay between customer booking and pick-up times for VTCs in a bid to give taxis an edge.

But the Council of State suspended the decree earlier this month, saying it was a “serious and immediate infringement on the economic interests” of VTC firms.

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