President Francois Hollande took a stance in the dispute between Uber Technologies Inc. and French taxi drivers, calling the company’s low-cost UberPop ride-hailing service illegal and asking for its termination.
“UberPop must be dismantled and made illegal,” Hollande said at a press conference in Brussels during the European Council summit. “And cars will have to be seized. But we live by the rule of law and the state won’t seize the cars itself, it must be authorized to do so by a court decision.”
French taxi drivers staged a violent protest against Uber Thursday, blocking access to Paris’s airports and burning tires outside the city. While driving a Paris taxi requires buying a license that can cost over 100,000 euros ($112,000), there is no such obligation for Uber drivers.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve filed a complaint against the company for organizing illegal transportation services, AFP reported. The protests are specifically against the discount UberPop service, which enables mobile-phone users to ride with drivers who might not have a commercial license.
“There is a problem, that must be solved. It’s a tricky problem: unfair competition by a company,” Hollande said. “Not respecting the laws, the labor rules, the fiscal rules, that’s illegal.”
Hollande also condemned yesterday’s violence, calling it “unacceptable” and “unbearable for the image of our country.”
The French justice system hasn’t declared Uber’s service illegal, Uber said in a statement. The San Francisco-based company said violence is “unacceptable.”
The Paris protests were echoed across France as striking taxi drivers overturned cars, tied up traffic and blocked train stations and airports to object to what they called unfair competition.
The protests also shook up American rock singer Courtney Love. Love said on her verified Twitter account that she escaped Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport on a motorcycle after rock-throwing protesters bashed her chauffeured car with metal bats and slashed its tires. She called on Hollande to use police to break up the protest, adding that she felt she’d be be safer in Baghdad.
Airport operator Aeroports de Paris advised travelers to use the RER commuter-train service to get to Roissy in the north and the tramway to get to Orly in the south, while the government urged people to use public transport. Paris airports aren’t currently facing blockages, Aeroports de Paris spokesman Jerome Marmet said Friday.
Three people were detained by the police in Paris and eight in Lyon following traffic disruptions and violent demonstrations, AFP said.
Photos circulating on RTL Radio’s website featured burning tires in Marseille and the Paris ring road, which was briefly closed in the morning. Other photos showed overturned cars and tear gas being used on protesters in central Paris.
“Many taxis drivers are infuriated,” Abdelkader Morghad, a representative of the FTI taxi union, said by telephone on Wednesday. “We’re demanding that the Thevenoud law, which clearly forbids unlicensed drivers, be implemented. There’s a lack of political will to do it.”
The taxi strike is set to continue indefinitely in a country whose labor protests have a reputation as sometimes being more violent than elsewhere in the developed world. They’re actually part of French tradition, said Pierre Boisard, a sociologist at ENS Cachan University, near Paris.
“This is a very ancient form of revolt,” Boisard said. “Its roots go back to the country’s peasantry. More than a collective movement, this is the eruption of individuals who feel cornered by the end of a system and who’ve been under pressure for years.”
Cazeneuve has instructed Paris police to prevent UberPop from operating in the city, BFM TV reported on its website. He interrupted a trip to Marseille to join Prime Minister Manuel Valls in talks in Paris with some of the taxi unions.
Uber says it has signed up a million users in France -- including 250,000 for UberPop, the ride-sharing service that uses non-professional drivers -- in just over three years.
According to Morghad, taxis in France have seen revenue fall between 30 percent and 40 percent in the last two years because of such services.
France’s leading taxi company, Taxis G7, said it would be unable to take any bookings and Uber’s website couldn’t be opened. Uber tariffs are likely to jump, since they vary depending on demand.
“It’s not up to the taxi drivers to enforce the law,” government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said on i-Tele on Wednesday. “UberPop is illegal but let the justice system do its job.”
The police in Paris are deploying an “adapted” force to prevent any incidents, a spokesman at the Prefecture de Police de Paris said by phone, without elaborating.
Cazeneuve said last week that he had asked police and the tax-fraud office to step up monitoring of UberPop drivers. The special police unit, dubbed “Les Boers,” has already made 420 legal filings against what they say are clandestine taxis operating as UberPop and similar services, Cazeneuve said.
Police in Strasbourg, Marseille and Nantes have prohibited the UberPop service. In Lyon, UberPop was banned last week after taxis planned similar actions, newspapers said.
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