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Hard to feel sympathy for French taxi drivers

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Hard to feel sympathy for French taxi drivers
French taxi drivers are not high in the popularity rankings right now. Photo: AFP
10:14 CEST+02:00
French taxi drivers have never been the most cherished bunch of people but after this week’s violent protests any sympathy the general public had for cabbies appears to have been extinguished.

The video shot at on a bridge at Porte Maillot on the western edge of Paris shows a man, believed to be a taxi driver, pick up a chunk of rock, raise it above his head and hurl down onto a black car below, smashing the windscreen to loud cheers from others around.

The shaken driver, probably fearing he was about to be pulled out of his car by the mob – as other Uber drivers were  - speeds off. Watch it for yourself.

 

It was just one example of the extreme action that pent up taxi drivers turned thugs, resorted to on Thursday when, in all around 70 cars vandalised around the country.

Other videos and images that emerged throughout the day shown taxi drivers turning over cars or VTCs (Vehicle Touristique avec Chauffeur), burning vehicles, pulling tourists and their suitcases out of cars.

 

There was also a report of a brick being thrown the window a car carrying a mother and her baby.

 

 

Even poor Courtney Love, the rocker who has probably seen it all, said she was scared out of her wits.

At Gare de Nord The Local witnessed a mob of taxi drivers try to persuade one of their fellow cabbies to join the protest. When he declined, they threw eggs at his car.

Earlier in the week there were signs things were getting out of hand of hand when an Uber client was left with several fractures after an alleged beating from taxi drivers.

Despite taxi union leaders calling for calm and denouncing violence they clearly couldn’t control a small minority of yobs who took the law into their own hands, often right under the eyes of the law itself.

“This is not a strike. Strikes are a peaceful refusal to work. This rampant vandalism and violence,” said one shocked reader of The Local, who seemed to sum up what most were thinking.

The things is, taxi drivers clearly have some pretty fair grievances.

How can they really compete with an app like UberPop, whose drivers don’t have to pass an exam or take training.

They don't have to shell out the same kind of sum for insurance and most significantly don’t have to pay out up to €200,000 for their license that they fear will be worth nothing when it comes to selling it on.

Then there’s the mess the government has made of trying to regulate VTCs and ban UberPop.

A law brought in last year to set clear rules for VTCs seems to be impossible to impose and while UberPop has been officially made illegal it continues to operate until a ruling by France's constitutional court in September.

Certain regions are not waiting and have imposed the ban, the latest of which is Paris, but while the legal waters remain muddied, UberPop continues to grow in popularity (400,000 users and rising), much to the frustration of taxi drivers who say their earnings have plummeted.

 

Uber themselves are perhaps not entirely blameless and have been criticised for their agressive approach which has only added to frustrations of traditional cabbies.

"There comes a moment when we have to express our anger and that’s the way it is. It’s normal," one taxi union leader told The Local this week, insisting that the public did have sympathy for their cause.

But who will have enough sympathy for taxi drivers, who have fought long and hard to protect their trade from competition, to go out and flag a cab down after witnessing this week's mayhem?

Perhaps the public mood towards cabbies can be best reflected in an open letter to a taxi driver that appeared on Facebook during the protest.

“Dear taxi driver. I cannot help but tell you how enjoyable it is to see you moan, cry and agonise against the rise of the private minicab," says the letter, penned by a Maxime Coulon, who presents himself as someone who was once charged €70 to travel 8km across Paris from Bercy to Trocadero.

He then lists a number a number of common complaints thrown at taxi drivers.
 
"Do you remember that day a few years ago, when you asked me my destination before allowing me, a client, to  get in you car? And when you quietly went twice around the block because I had the misfortune to doze off in your car.
 
"Instead of ambushing and assaulting minicab drivers in groups of 20, thinking we will applaud you and instead of blocking the péripherique when everyone is going to work, why don't you just take two seconds to consider the lamentable service that you provide.
 
And try and align yourselves with your competitors by offering a service that can be deemed respectable.
 
The letter quickly garnered tens of thousands of shares and upwards of 200,000 likes. 
 
If revellers in Paris this weekend decide against taking a taxi home (not that they can most nights given the lack of them) then taxi drivers only have themselves to blame.
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