Taxi drivers in Paris protesting over the increasing number of private hire cabs in the city attacked their competitor’s vehicles on Monday, smashing windows and slashing tyres while terrified passengers were inside.
French police were forced to intervene when the drivers tried to block roads and attacked other taxis not taking part in the strike or private hire cabs, who they accuse of stealing their business.
Kat Borlongan, who had just returned to Paris from the Philippines on Monday morning was caught in the middle of the dispute when the "Uber" taxi she picked up from Charles De Gaulle airport was targeted.
(Kat Borlongan, who was attacked in a taxi in Paris on Monday)
“We were attacked very close to the airport. We passed through what you could call a kind of check point. We had no idea what was happening, but there were lots of police there.
“Then someone threw some white paint or something at the car which blocked the view through the windows. Then they smashed the passenger window, next to me and there was glass all over us.
Borlongan, who runs an open data company in Paris, thought that was the end of the incident, but then they drove into another ‘check point’ further down the road, where protesting taxi drivers were also massed.
— mobirolla (@mobirolla) January 13, 2014
“This time there were about five or six guys trying to get into the car. They were opening the doors and my window was already smashed out. We were really afraid.”
It was then that one of the tyres on the car was smashed and the driver of her cab was forced to accelerate away before pulling over onto the hard shoulder to change the tyre. Numerous other cabs, which had been targeted in the same way, also had to pull over, Borlangan says.
The anger of the protesters and their willingness to take action left the Philippine-born businesswoman shocked.
“This was not what I was expecting in Paris, after coming back from Manilla,” she said. “I support the right to strike and have got used to it from living in France, but smashing passenger windows is a different story.
“Imagine if I had had a baby on my lap. The glass would have shattered all over their face.”
The taxi firm later confirmed the attack and condemned the violence.
"Uber strongly condemns this morning’s incident where two of our users and our driver were confronted with severe violence. That the taxis chose to use violence is unacceptable," the company said in a statment.
She was not the only taxi passenger targeted on Monday morning. Several others reported that eggs and rocks were thrown at the vehicle they were travelling in and even non-striking taxi drivers were attacked.
There were reports of incidents on the A1, and the A106, as well as at Orly airport to the south of the city.
The protest stems from an increasingly bitter dispute between conventional taxi drivers and their newer, higher-end rivals, the private hire cab or VTC (véhicule de tourisme avec chauffeur) as they are known in France.
The French capital has experienced a sharp rise in the number of private car companies seeking to offer clients more comfortable journeys and the possibility of booking ahead from their homes or hotels.
Private cars will no longer be able to solicit passengers on the side of the road, a practice condemned as “unfair” competition by conventional taxi-drivers, if the measure becomes law in January, as planned.