French taxis on nationwide strike after many weeks of rising tension over Uber
French taxis went on a nationwide strike Thursday, snarling traffic in major cities after weeks of rising, sometimes violent tensions over Uber. Travelers hoping to catch a flight walked alongside highways with their bags, and riot police in Paris fired tear gas canisters to clear strikers from a main entrance to the city.
Despite repeated rulings against Uber’s lowest-cost offering, its drivers continue to ply French roads and the American mobile ride-calling company is actively recruiting drivers and passengers alike. Uber claims to have 400,000 customers a month in France.
France’s top security official said he had ordered an immediate ban on the service in the Paris region but called for an end to violence against Uber drivers.
“We are calling for calm. We are in a state of law,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. “A state of law is not a state of violence.”
Courtney Love Cobain was among those caught up in the airport tensions, according to a litany of tweets she sent Thursday afternoon.
“They’ve ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage. They’re beating the cars with metal bats. This is France?? I’m safer in Baghdad,” she wrote.
Uber’s more expensive livery service is still legal but a source of intense frustration for French taxi drivers, who pay tens of thousands of euros (dollars) for the equivalent of medallions and who face customer complaints that they are being resistant to changes such as credit cards and geolocation.
Taxi drivers complain that livery services like Uber unfairly undercut them and in recent weeks nearly 100 Uber drivers have been attacked, sometimes while carrying customers. One irritated taxi passenger was left with a broken face and black eye after he praised Uber.
“There are people who are willing to do anything to stop any competition,” said Thomas Meister, a spokesman for Uber. “We are only the symptom of a badly organized market.”
The French government, meanwhile, said nearly 500 legal cases have been filed across the country involving complaints about UberPop, the lowest cost service. The officials reiterated concerns about safety of passengers, insisting they are not protected in case of an accident by an UberPop driver.
Strikers darted by the dozens onto Paris’ ring road near a main entrance to the city to create traffic chaos, then dashed away as riot police tried to catch them. The Liberation newspaper said taxi drivers attacked a photographer. At the airports, police were checking entering cars in hopes of avoiding more violence.
French CRS riot police face demonstrators as striking taxi drivers block the Boulevard Peripherique near Porte Maillot in Paris on Thursday, June 25.