Thu, Jun 12, 2014 - Page 15 News List

Europe’s cab drivers protest Uber service


London taxis line up outside Waterloo station in London on May 4, 2012.

Photo: Bloomberg

Taxi drivers in London, Paris and other European capitals yesterday planned to stage a protest against unlicensed mobile car-hailing services such as Uber which have shaken up the industry.

Traffic problems were expected in key European cities as London’s famous black cabs and traditional cabbies in Rome, Paris, Berlin and Milan protest a rise in unlicensed drivers and chauffeur services that are chipping away at their client base.

California-based chauffeur car company Uber is the main target of the drivers’ ire, but it is only one of many new smartphone-dependent car services seen as bypassing strict regulations faced by licensed drivers.

“Uber is deliberately not respecting regulations and on top of that has significant financial means,” said Serge Metz, chief executive officer of France’s Taxi G7.

The protest comes just days after Uber was valued at a whopping US$17 billion, one of the highest-ever figures for a technology startup.

Launched in 2009, the Uber app allows clients to connect directly with “black car” services, a thriving model which has seen it and similar companies surge across the globe.

In France there are now an estimated 10,000 vehicles and motorcycle taxis run by such non-traditional taxi firms.

Drivers are only allowed to pick up passengers through prior reservation, not by hailing them in the street.

Most notably, they do not have to shell out about 240,000 euros (US$325,000) for a license required by official taxi owners.

Fury at the practice has seen taxi drivers stage several protests, choking major roads across France — a sight expected again yesterday, when a separate train workers’ strike was expected to compound traffic problems.

Drivers were to converge on the two main airports in Paris, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, and slowly head into the city, taxi federations said.

In Rome, taxi drivers were to hold a “reverse strike” by charging only 10 euros per trip to fall in line with competitors’ prices.

In Milan, drivers were to strike all day. Convoys of taxis were expected to block traffic in Berlin and Hamburg.

In a jaunty response to the protest, Uber said in an e-mail to subscribers that it would offer 50 percent off its services in Paris.

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