Gridlock in central London. Roadblocks around Paris airports. A midday traffic jam on Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm shopping street. That’s part of the misery that some 30,000 taxi and limo drivers promise to inflict on Europe on Wednesday, when they will go on strike in a bid to stop the Uber car service from encroaching on their turf.
The strike, which follows scattered European protests against San Francisco-based Uber over the past few months, is likely to be the biggest ever, with drivers in Britain and France joined by others in Germany, Italy, and Spain. Uber’s business model also has sparked heated debate in the U.S.—although so far, no demonstrations on the scale of what’s being planned in Europe.
The cabbies contend that Uber and similar smartphone app-based services have an unfair advantage because they’re not subjected to the same kinds of fees and regulations placed on taxis. “We have nothing against competition,” Steve McNamara of London’s Licensed Taxi Driver Association told the London Evening Standard. But Uber is being allowed “to operate outside the law.”
In a statement e-mailed to Bloomberg News, Uber said it planned to continue working during the strike. “While the taxi protests may seek to bring Europe to a standstill, we’ll be on hand to get our riders from A to B,” the company said.
The most severe traffic disruptions could be in London. On its Twitter (TWTR) feed, the city’s Metropolitan Police said it has received reports that 10,000 black-cab drivers could bring their cars into central London for a demonstration. “This could have serious implications for transport in the capital and interfere with the work of emergency services and potentially put lives in danger.” The department said it had attempted to contact the protest organizers but has received no response.
In France, protesting drivers plan to block the highway connecting Paris to Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport, while cutting off access to Orly airport south of the city, as well. Adding to the misery of French travelers, railroad workers have called a June 11 strike to protest planned reforms of the national railway system. Earlier anti-Uber protests in France turned ugly when some drivers smashed windows and slashed the tires of Uber cars.
European taxi groups have fought Uber in the courts but haven’t made much headway. France’s constitutional court struck down a rule that would have required Uber drivers to wait at least 15 minutes between the time of booking and passenger pickup. In April, a Berlin court banned the Uber black-car service, but the ruling hasn’t been enforced there.