French President Francois Hollande has strongly criticized recent violent protests in France by taxi cab drivers. These drivers, numbering some 3000 took to the streets of Paris, blocking access to Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports. At the centre of the protests are concerns over the popular ride sharing app Uber, which threatens to undermine the jobs of traditional taxi drivers. Uber has incited heated emotions in France, with taxi protesters setting vehicles on fire and damaging 70 other vehicles during clashes between drivers from Uber and taxi companies.
During the clashes seven police officers were injured and ten people arrested, prompting President Hollande to describe the protests as “unacceptable violence in a democracy, in a country like France.” While France is no stranger to violent protests with a penchant for burning cars, this is the first time a digital service issue has sparked such violence. Taxi drivers are protesting that Uber is competing with them without having to pay the tens of thousands of dollars for proper licenses and permits in order to ferry passengers that other taxi services are obligated to pay.
Interestingly, despite repeated rulings against Uber, its drivers continue to operate in France, servicing some 400,000 customers a month. Recent violence has led to renewed calls for a ban on Uber in France from Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. Similarly, while President Hollande condemned the violence, he agrees with the position of the taxi drivers; stating that “UberPop should be dissolved and declared illegal,” at yesterday’s EU leaders summit in Brussels.
Uber has proven controversial in many countries, with some banning the service outright (Thailand) and Uber offices being raided in China following unrest by taxi drivers in that country. Thousands of taxi drivers around the world at worried that Uber will deprive them of jobs, as Uber’s lower costs undermines traditional transport networks.