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WHY WE’RE ON STRIKE: TAXI DRIVERS

PROTESTS

French taxi drivers: We want égalité and deserve solidarité

Thousands of French taxi drivers staged protests on Tuesday claiming their livelihoods are being threatened. Many told The Local that all they want are laws to be enforced and that the public should back their fight.

French taxi drivers: We want égalité and deserve solidarité

Taxi drivers were at it again on Tuesday.

Roads were blocked, tyres were burned, the windows of Uber cars were smashed and all in the name of a protest to defend their industry.

While sympathy from the public has all but run out, taxi drivers insist they have a cause that the public should back.

The Local spoke to numerous drivers amassed at Porte Maillot on the western edge of Paris to hear their case. 

Their overall complaint was that the industry is fundamentally unfair, claiming VTCs or private hire cabs and web platforms like Uber are subject to far fewer regulations and costs.

They blame the 20 to 30 percent drop in revenue on the fact that VTC companies and Uber do not have to abide by the same rules.

What makes matters worse for them is that a 2014 law aimed to tighten the regulations on firms like Uber and other private hire firms is not being implemented.

“We have lost 40 percent of our business from this illegal activity,” taxi driver Fathe Benmansoer tells The Local.

“The current laws are sufficient if they're respected. But the government does nothing to make the VTCs adhere to them.

“They have become taxis without paying for licenses.

“There can be taxis and there can be VTCs, they can co-habitate, if the laws are applied. All taxi drivers believe the VTCs have the right to exist, if they respect the laws.”

Those laws include a ban on VTCs cruising the streets looking for clients, which only taxis are permitted to do. The new rules also banned VTCs from turning up at airports and train stations in the hope of picking up clients. They are supposed to be pre-booked.

They are also banned from using certain taxi lanes.

But the fact these laws are not being forced – even the man who came up with them says the government lack the will to do it – is driving taxi drivers round the bend.

“These companies like Uber are taxis but without the same rules. These VTCs are like hidden taxis that don't respect the laws,” said one driver.

One driver called Jjamel said: “How can you explain that there are taxi drivers in debt of €200,000, and there are others who can do it without paying?

“All we ask for is application of the laws. You go over to Charles de Gaulle and there are no parking spots for us. They're all there with their smartphones waiting.

“It's not complicated. There are laws in place but they are not enforced.”

Some suggest the blame should be placed at the influence of a North American way of doing business.

“This is a problem that touches many domains. We have be the same problem with Airbnb. The American startups come in and they don't pay and they don't follow the rules,” said Yassine.

“Taxis are part of the French heritage. There's the American companies that pay no taxes, no charges, nothing,” said Julien.

And all this means taxi drivers are fighting to make a living.

“We're here because we're not happy,” a driver named Zacouzac told The Local. “Because we bought licenses and paid charges, paid more than €3,000 for everything, and yet I can't keep my head above the water.

“The VTCs need to go or need to pay the same charges. I'm three, four, months behind with what I owe. Taxi drivers, we start a career by paying €3,000 or more and they, they get a GPS and a suit and voila.

“What we propose to the government is that the state writes us a cheque with what we invested with interest, and then I’ll be happy”.

“The public should back us”

While many may accept the taxi drivers have legitimate complaints, sympathy among the public is almost non-existent, much to the frustration of the drivers.

They believe the public should get behind them, because they are acting in the interests of France.

A union leader speaking over a megaphone at Porte Maillot called for more sympathy for their cause.

“We are people who respect the laws. We are not Isis. This is not Syria, it's not Iraq. This is Porte Maillot and this is France,” he said.

“I remember clearly the days of the attacks. The taxis carried people for free. And Uber? Uber multiplied its tariffs,” he claimed.

“The public has a bad image of us and I don't know why,” added a driver named Rouchde.

“The whole week we work normally and it's Friday and Saturday night that we work the most. On these nights when the bars close people want to raise their hands and have a taxi immediately.

“They say there aren't enough taxis. We'll come Monday Tuesday Wednesday, not just the weekends.

Another driver named Stephane said: “The public takes taxis, so it's in the interest of everyone. We're all fighting the same battle.”

A driver named Julien said: “It's for the good of the country and of the state. These businesses invest nothing  in France. It's the future of the country at stake.”

By Katie Warren

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PROTESTS

Students blockade Paris schools in election protest

Students blockaded five schools in Paris on Tuesday to demonstrate their political concerns ahead of the second round of the Presidential elections on Sunday.

Students blockade Paris schools in election protest

In addition to the five blockaded lycées, the université Paris 8 in Saint-Denis was closed “for security reasons”.

The students – who are too young to make their voices heard at the ballot box – were protesting against the options available to voters in the second round – where incumbent Emmanuel Macron takes on far-right leader Marine Le Pen – and follows earlier student protests at the Sorbonne.

Many were demonstrating in protest at what they saw as inadequate policies on climate change and social issues from both candidates in the final round of voting, as well as the lack of choice for the electorate.

“It is a continuation of what happened at the Sorbonne,” one student told AFP. “We want a third social round, because the two candidates qualified for the second round have no social or ecological programmes. 

“We want to give a new breath to this Fifth Republic a little at the end of the race.

“We are fed up with the fascist state. We are here against Marine Le Pen, against fascism, for the climate and against capitalism,” another student at the lycée Louis-le-Grand in the capital’s fifth arrondissement said.

“We have blocked all the entrances. We will stay there as long as possible.”

About 100 students blockaded the prestigious school. Some students chant slogans against the “Front National” – the former name of second-round candidate Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National party.

The blockades ended peacefully at the end of the day.

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