Almost 3,000 taxi drivers brought cities across France to a standstill on Thursday in a nationwide protest against UberPop – a ride sharing app that puts customers in touch with private drivers at prices lower than those of traditional taxis.
While the app is proving popular with the French public – with latest figures showing 400,000 users across the country – licensed cabbies say the service is endangering their jobs by flooding the market with low-cost drivers creating vastly unfair competition.
The real source of their frustration is the fact that UberPop has been banned in France since January, but courts have allowed the service to continue to operate until a final ruling is due in the autumn.
Despite repeated government assurances that UberPop is “completely illegal” the app was recently rolled out in more cities.
Abdelkader Morghad, from the National Federation of Independent Taxi drivers told The Local on Thursday why the protests were necessary and why the public should support French taxi drivers in their battle against private minicabs (VTCs).
''This has been going on for around two years. We called for VTCs to be regulated and the government introduced a clear law. It’s there, it’s a fair law, but it’s not being imposed.
“UberPop is illegal and they say they are carrying out checks and stopping UberPop drivers, but controls are one thing, they need to apply the law, which means drivers caught by police would be subject to fines.
“Taxi drivers and private minicab drivers are the same, it’s the same career so why are the rules different for us? UberPop drivers don’t pay taxes, social security contributions, VAT or their license fee, which in Paris costs us €190,000. They just put their money in their pocket.
“How can you explain that? That’s the real frustration for us. UberPop is completely illegal in France, but people are still able to download the app and drivers are still able to pick them up and earn money.
“When we explain to the public about the differences in the rules for VTC drivers, they understand that it’s just not fair.
And the violence?
“We are not striking for pleasure. I am losing money today.
“Of course the public don’t like a strike. A strike is never popular, but there comes a moment when we have to express our anger and that’s the way it is. It’s normal.
“We are very much against violence. We understand the frustration of drivers but we call for calm. We have nothing against the Uber drivers themselves, just against the authorities who are allowing them to break the law.
“We warned them this would happen, because the frustration has been building up for years. There is a big problem that needs fixing and that’s why you have scenes like today.
Why should the public support you?
“We are just calling for the same rules for everyone. If the public don’t want us to be more expensive than an Uber car then they should just demand that everyone pays the same costs.
“It’s like if people go to McDonalds and pay €8 for a sandwich and then I turn up and sell the exact same sandwich outside for €4, of course the people are going to be happy. But Mr McDonald won’t be and he would have to cut staff.
“For every €100 we earn, €47 goes to the state. There are taxi drivers who work seven days a week, 11 hours a day but they still can’t pay their bills or their taxes. Across the board we have seen a 30 percent drop in our earnings.
“UberPop drivers don’t pay VAT, they don’t pay their social security payments to the state. Imagine if we all worked like that. There would be no schools, no hospitals, no motorways.
“The French feel strongly about their social welfare system. It’s a system they want but these UberPop drivers pay nothing towards it. If no one did, there would be nothing left. Everything would be private.
But the public have a negative view of taxi drivers
“There are 25,000 taxi drivers in Paris, of course there will be a few bad ones, but we have a disciplinary process to deal with them.
“People talk about VTC drivers, but 80 percent of them are ex-taxi drivers who were either not good enough or couldn’t afford to work as a taxi driver.“