Taxi wars erupt in Paris
Paris's taxi drivers are up in arms at a new breed of upstart minicabs who eschew the traditions of being rude and elusive.
Taxi war has erupted as the monopoly long enjoyed by the French capital's notoriously protectionist cabbies is being challenged by a new breed of bookable minicabs.
Parisian taxi drivers get a bad press for being rude, playing loud music, almost never accepting credit cards and turning up for a booked ride with €10 already on the meter. They are also notoriously hard to find.
Standing in a long queue at a taxi rank outside the Opera Garnier, one irate Parisian watched a string of cabs with the red "taken" light on their roof drive past, and exclaimed: "Taxis, taxis all around, but where's one when you need one."
Martin Pietz, a German Paris-based photographer, said: "One or two drops of rain and there are no taxis at all. When you do stop one, they can be very rude and if it it's not on their way home or to lunch they often say: 'Take another one, I'm busy.'
With just 18,000 vehicles, Paris' taxi fleet has remained virtually unchanged since the 1950s, while London's has swelled to around 23,000 black cabs and 40,000 minicabs.
Despite the clear dearth, Paris' powerful taxi lobby has successfully fought off repeated attempts to deregulate the industry and bring in minicabs - usually by bringing the capital's main ring road to a total halt.
Charles de Gaulle threw in the towel in 1958 after a two-day strike. Right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy capitulated in 2008 after a drivers staged a three-day "operation escargot".
Now, however, the undisputed reign of "le taxi parisien" is under threat due to a recent change to the law liberalising so-called "tourist vehicles with chauffeurs", or VTCs - the French equivalent of minicabs.
Yan Hascoët, the 29-year old CEO of Chauffeur Prive,started with 20 cars 18 months ago and business is booming. He now has a fleet of 320 vehicles, a client base of 15,000 and is seeing 15 per cent week on week growth.
"Our drivers are dressed in a suit and red tie, they open the door, make you feel at home in the car, doesn't blast their own music and don't talk unless talked to – just basic service which is hard to find in France," he told the Daily Telegraph.
VTCs work on reservations and cannot be hailed in the street. But the advent of smart phone applications using global positioning means cars can turn up almost at once, enraging taxi unions which accuse them of bending the rules.
"We have to pay 240,000 euros for a new taxi licence, and have a strict area where can work, while they pay just 100 euros to work where they want and can do what they like," said Jean-Michel Rebours, Defence of Paris Taxis Union, UDIP.
To stop this, taxi unions are calling for on the government to impose a 15-minute delay between when a customer books a minicab and its arrival.
Minicab companies say the 15 minute rule is an attempt to kill off competition. "How can we tell our customers to wait another eight minutes when their car has already arrived?" said Mr Hascoet.
With a decision expected in the coming weeks, experts said the taxi lobby will pull out all the stops to get its way.
"The French government is frightened of Paris' taxi drivers, and has a similar relationship with them as French farmers as they protect the big players," said Richard Derbera, author of "Where are taxis going?" and member of the City on the Move institute.
"Almost 20 years ago I said to myself, this is ridiculous, there's no way we can go on like this in Paris. But we have," he added. "France will be the last to change."
Source: The Telegraph.