Taxi Protests Against Uber Disrupt Commute Across Europe

Paris Taxi. Photo: Flickr via Wikimedia Commons, by jean pierre gallot

Paris Taxi
Photo: Flickr via Wikimedia Commons, by jean pierre gallot

Major cities across Europe faced epic traffic jams on Wednesday, June 11 as taxi drivers organized an international protest against Uber, the highly successful U.S. based car service. The streets of London, Berlin, Paris, and Madrid all experienced major demonstrations.

Paris taxi drivers slowed traffic on busy commuter routes in and around the city, blocking roads to the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, as well as the perimeter A1 highway that circles the city. Local French TV reported a 200km (120 mile) backup on the interstate, as nearly all of Paris’s 15,000 cabs took to the streets.

London meanwhile saw a gathering of around 12,000 taxi drivers in Trafalgar Square, disrupting traffic near Prime Minister David Cameron’s residence. Berlin and Madrid faced similar back-ups.

The protest not only plagued Europe, but reached across the Atlantic as well. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a smaller number of taxi drivers boycotted during the early morning rush hour, just one day before the start of the World Cup, to which Rio plays host.

The Silicon Valley start-up, Uber Technologies Inc., was valued this past week at $18.2 billion, showing rapid growth since its 2010 launch.

European taxi drivers have argued that companies such as Uber are unfair competitors to traditional taxi services, as they are not held to the same regulations as traditional cabs. Taxi companies have reported significant drops in revenue since the introduction of such car services. In many cases services such as Uber are more convenient than city cabs and embrace new technologies such as smart phone apps.

Paris has already witnessed tension over the Uber car service. Back in January, angered taxi drivers reportedly attacked an Uber car leaving the Charles de Gaulle airport, smashing the car’s windows and slashing its tires. A month later, Parisian taxi unions organized a week-long strike, which only ended when the government appointed Assemblée Nationale member Thomas Thévenoud to determine a permanent solution.

As a result of this mediation, Paris agreed to impose a mandatory 15 minute delay on car service vehicles between passenger request and pick up. However, the law was struck down by France’s constitutional court as “anti-competitive.”

Despite the taxi protests and legal troubles, Uber still appeals to many urban Europeans. In cities where cabs are often pricey, inefficient, and unreliable, Uber offers a modern alternative. The cars, driven by average citizens rather than professional chauffeurs, are called using a smart phone app, which can be used to locate nearby vehicles, pay for the ride, and rate the driver.

It is clear that tech-driven models like that of Uber threaten the taxi system in Paris and other major European cities. Cab services have revealed their power to disrupt; the question is whether they have the power to adapt.

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