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Do Paris taxi drivers really deserve their reputation as scam artists?

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Do Paris taxi drivers really deserve their reputation as scam artists?
A police unit in Paris is dedicated to stopping taxi fraud. Photo: AFP
13:14 CEST+02:00
Last week The Local reported on an outrageous scam by a Paris taxi driver, the latest in a long litany of abuses by cab-drivers. But is getting a taxi in the French capital really that fraught with danger, or are their drivers unfairly maligned?

Tourists who have been ripped off in a Paris taxi complain of a myriad of methods being used by drivers: erroneously claiming that there is a fixed fee for the journey, taking longer routes than necessary in order to charge more and refusing change for big notes, to name just a few. 

“I condemn any driver cheating customers, but in reality there are more drivers getting ripped off by customers than vice versa,” said Didier Hogrel, president of the Fédération Nationale du Taxi (FNDT).

He insisted that most of the scams are carried out by people who are not legitimate taxi drivers, such as the men who hang around the arrivals halls of Paris airports and falsely claim to be licensed drivers.

Hogrel pointed out that his federation had taken a civil suit against a man who was convicted of fraud for trying to charge a young Thai couple 247 euros for taking them from Charles de Gaulle airport to central Paris.

The FNDT sued the man - who was later sentenced to eight months in prison - for having discredited the taxi profession as a whole, even though he was not officially registered as a taxi driver.

The taxi industry is highly regulated in France and anyone breaking the rules faces punishment of up to a year in prison and up to 15,000 euros in fines, as well as the possibility of having their vehicle confiscated and losing their driving licence.

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Those rules are enough to protect tourists and locals alike if they take a few simple precautions, such as only taking a taxi from an official rank at the airport or checking that a cab hailed in the street has a proper metre, said Hogrel.

But in the scam The Local reported on last week, the victims - a British tourist and her elderly parents whom the driver tried to charge 62 euros for a short ride that should have cost 10 - said the vehicle did indeed have a functioning metre.

“The metre should be the gauge of stability for anyone using a taxi,” Hogrel of the FNDT told The Local. “But as in all professions, whether it be journalism or politics, there are unscrupulous persons and I deplore any behaviour like this.”

As well as the formidable legal punishments that fraudulent drivers face, tourists and locals can also take comfort in the knowledge that there is a special police team in the Paris region entirely dedicated to clamping down on taxi fraud.

They are officially called the Boers and consist of a total of 99 officers working night and day to put to a stop to bad behaviour by taxi drivers and those working for ride-hailing services such as Uber.

“We operate like a traditional investigation unit, carrying out surveillance and raids,” the unit's website says.

“The Boers track down fake taxi drivers in their favourite haunts: tourist sectors, around international stations, and nightclubs in the capital,” it said, noting that last year the unit carried out a total of 241 operations.

Taxi drivers take part in a blockade south of Paris to protest a draft law on transport. Photo: AFP 

But the Boers have their work cut out for them, as their figures show that 14,012 offences were committed last year, a 20 percent rise on 2017.

Those figures include offences by official taxi drivers, fake taxi drivers, and drivers of what in France are called VTC - Voiture de Transport avec Chauffeur, or hire vehicles with driver - which covers services such as Uber, Taxify, or Chauffeur Privé.

It is these ride-hailing apps for which Fédération Nationale du Taxi (FNDT) boss reserves his deepest scorn.

“Taxi drivers are subject to strict rules but VTC drivers are not, and they are bringing down standards,” he fumed.

On Monday hundreds of taxi drivers blocked roads in and around Paris to protest at what they see as the unfair advantages granted to VTC drivers by a new transport law currently under consideration in the French parliament.

Karim Asnoun from the taxi division of the hard left CGT union said the new law "plans to give VTCs the same rights of taxis, such as the freedom to use bus lanes and social security agreements without subjecting them to the same constraints."

Whatever the outcome of that protest, taxi drivers are likely to continue to be accused of all sorts of scams.

But there are also uplifting tales being told about them.

After The Local's  article last week about the attempted scam of the British tourist and her elderly parents, one particularly heart-warming story emerged during a Twitter debate.

Kim Willsher first recounted how her ageing mother had asked to be taken to Gare du Nord to catch a Eurostar but was instead deposited by the taxi at Gare du Lyon, and then missed her train.

But in a follow-on tweet Willsher provided an epilogue that redeems the much-maligned Paris taxi driver's reputation.

“A lovely female taxi driver took her to Gare du Nord only taking payment when mum insisted, and Eurostar rose to occasion and put her on the next train,” she wrote.

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Intellectually Boggy - 20 May 2019 14:29
LOL at the headline - I think the Local is the only one making this claim about the reputation of taxi drivers.

They are well-dressed, courteous professionals... like most professionals. The Local is just being typical Anglophone tabloid, again.
Susan - 22 May 2019 12:41
I've taken lots of taxis in Paris, and most are courteous professionals...however; I have also had some rude drivers. I chalk that up to them having a bad day. But the driver who picked me up one day and stopped at the first stop sign and proceeded to apply his deodorant certainly was not professional. Gave me a chuckle and another travel story for my journal....
Gordon - 11 Jun 2019 19:12
I have always found them very gracious and helpful. The cabs are clean and orderly. They smell good. I speak very little ferench and they have gone out of their way for me. Although I did have to tell one where my hotel La Reserve was located, it is 42 Avenue Gabriel 75008. That blew me away that he did not kniow that. then I asked the same cab drivewr to take me to the Bristol. He did not know that hotel either!! But by and by, they have been wonderful.
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