The French government has imposed new rules on minicab firms after pressure from Paris taxi operators who are fearful of losing their market share. Minicab firms say the new booking restrictions are both futile and unfair.
The French authorities were accused Wednesday of caving in to lobbying from Paris’s biggest taxi operator and cabbies’ unions, after imposing restrictions on the capital’s burgeoning minicab market.
From January 1, 2014, minicabs, called Tourist Vehicles with Chauffeur (VTCs) in France, will be obliged to wait 15 minutes between taking a booking and sending out a vehicle.
Licensed taxi operators that offer pre-booking services, the biggest being the G7 Group, had initially asked the government to impose a two-hour delay for VTC bookings.
“The 15-minute delay is a concession to lobbying and big business,” said Benjamin Cardoso, founder of VTC firm Le Cab. “G7, which has a monopoly on pre-booked taxis in Paris, will do everything it can to hold on to its business.
“And while this is a futile gesture that will not deeply affect my business, it fails to address the fact that Paris desperately needs more cabs.”
G7, along with many individual taxi drivers (most of the capital’s cabbies are freelancers who own their own vehicles), argues that because VTC operators use smartphone booking apps with GPS location services, they can send a car to a customer almost on the spot.
This nearly instant service, they say, is bad news for traditional taxi drivers as it borders dangerously on their hallowed – and expensively acquired – privilege of picking clients up at the roadside.
The French authorities tend to take note when licensed cabbies are upset. Go-slow protests in central Paris and on the city’s “Périphérique” ring road in the past have brought the capital’s road infrastructure to a juddering halt.
Surly and uncooperative service
Hailing a cab in Paris can be hard work – especially late at night and during rush hours – not least because there are not too many about.
The city caps the number of taxi licences – which sell for 230,000 euros in the capital and represent a cab driver’s retirement pot – to around 17,500 (although the authorities announced this week that they planned to issue a further 1,000 licences).
And with just over 1,000 VTCs, Paris compares unfavourably with other major cities.
London, which has roughly the same population as Paris, has some 20,000 licensed “black cabs” complemented by an estimated 50,000 minicabs. New Yorkers enjoy a similar abundance.
Parisian taxi drivers, meanwhile, have a reputation – in a very few cases deserved – of offering a surly and uncooperative service, ignoring requests to take a particular route and sometimes refusing to pick up passengers whose itinerary doesn’t suit theirs.
And in the case of pre-booked taxi rides – operated almost exclusively by G7 which operates 10,000 of the city’s taxis – cabs in Paris start their meters the moment they are sent to pick up their fare, meaning customers often start their journey with 10 euros already on the meter.
An argument for greater competition?
Cardoso, who founded VTC company Le Cab a year ago, said his firm now operates 250 vehicles, serving some 60,000 customers a year, including 1,500 businesses.
His drivers, he said, always wear suits, drive upmarket vehicles, are polite, give passengers the choice of music and will only speak when absolutely necessary or when spoken to.
He believes this gives his company an edge over Paris’s taxis, which he claims are resting on the laurels of powerful union support and the lobbying of big business, especially from the G7 group (which did not respond to FRANCE 24’s requests for comment).
“Paris needs another 30,000 pre-booked taxis,” Cardoso told FRANCE 24, adding that there are four times more private cars in Paris than in central London “because Parisians have no other choice”.
VTCs and traditional taxis could operate together happily, he insisted, reducing the number of private cars on the roads and delivering a better service as a result of “competition, which can only be a good thing for everyone”.
“G7 lobbies hard to maintain its monopoly,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why the city is forced to put up with an unsatisfactory service.”
“This 15-minute rule will not affect my business particularly as all of our fares are booked well in advance,” he added. “But this constant reluctance to let the VTC business develop makes the false French stereotype of protectionism and resistance to change ring true, unfortunately.”