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Taxis versus Uber battle turns ugly in France

Ben McPartland · 23 Jun 2015, 15:49

Published: 23 Jun 2015 15:49 GMT+02:00

Tensions have been rising in recent weeks between Uber and French taxi drivers, who are increasingly taking the battle against the Californian-based firm into their hands.

Their anger is focused on the UberPop service, which allows ordinary drivers to effectively become taxi drivers by connecting them to customers through a smartphone app.

Taxi drivers have a long list of grievances against the UberPop app, but chief among them currently is that despite the government ruling it illegal, the service has been allowed to continue.

At the weekend their frustrations boiled over in the city of Lyon when a client of UberPop was allegedly beaten up by a mob of cabbies.

The 26-year-old, named Alexandre, was attacked after saying to a taxi driver that “it wasn’t surprising that clients preferred Uber” after being told he could not get in the cabbie’s car because he was on strike – against Uber.

As he tried to use the UberPop app to find a driver, the young man says he was punched by at least two different people and was left with fractures to his jaw and nose.

He posted a photo of himself on Twitter to show the damage done by the taxi drivers.

The taxi drivers’ union has insisted however that there is no proof that any of its drivers were involved in the assault.

That same night an UberPop driver was also surrounded by taxi drivers, abused, and had his car vandalised.

The local prefecture in Lyon had banned the UberPop service on Thursday to avoid any outbreak of trouble and to ensure the safety of passengers.

As French newspaper Liberation pointed out, the move failed on both accounts.

The incident in Lyon is just the latest and most graphic evidence of how tensions are escalating. Five taxi drivers are being held in the southern city of Nice after reportedly attacking an UberPop driver.

IN PICTURES: French taxi drivers' anti-Uber protest turns violent

 

After UberPop launched its service in Marseille earlier this month, taxi drivers immediately blockaded the firm's HQ in the city.

Drivers were reportedly spat at and abused and surrounded in their cars, some of which were covered in paint or eggs.

There have been reports of taxi drivers organizing traps to catch UberPop drivers by signing up to the app and ordering a ride.

Andre Chiguian, from the National Federation of Taxi Drivers has called for calm: "We are not in Afghanistan or Iraq, we are in France and we reject violence" he told BFM TV.

But Uber shows no sign of backing down. By rolling out its service in Marseille, Strasbourg and Nantes, after already having set up in other cities like Paris and Lyon, the firm wants to put pressure on French authorities to allow it to continue.

Story continues below…

UberPop is technically illegal in France, thanks to a new raft of laws brought in last year.

However the company is appealing a €100,000 ($113,000) fine it received last year.

The court of appeal has put back its decision until September meaning parent company Uber is still permitted to run the app. The court of appeal may decide to transfer the decision to France's Constitutional Council.

Under the Thévenoud law introduced on January 1st, French police are allowed to hand out fines if they catch the Uberpop drivers - hundreds of whom have been penalised.

But an UberPop driver was recently cleared of any wrongdoing in a French court, adding further frustration for taxi drivers.

Tensions show no sign of easing anytime soon with taxi drivers planning more protests and strikes across the country on Thursday.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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