French union protesters attack Uber cab for “unfair competition.” No, really.

posted at 8:01 pm on January 13, 2014 by Erika Johnsen

As constantly cited by economists, financiers, and businesses, some of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of the stubbornly lethargic-and/or-decelerating French economy — the second-largest in the eurozone, for now — are their range of prohibitively complex and rigid labor laws that put a major damper on business activity, investment, innovation, and hiring.

French taxi unions, however, are evidently unmoved by this economic reality. Via the Financial Times:

Hundreds of taxi drivers jammed roads around Paris and other big French cities on Monday in a protest against what they called unfair competition from private cabs, despite moves by the Socialist government to protect them.

In action that highlighted the problem facing President François Hollande as he promises to loosen business regulation, massed taxis driving at a snail’s pace snarled roads from the two main Paris airports into the city and staged similar demonstrations elsewhere to demand a clampdown on the emergence of private taxi services.

Mr Hollande, due to outline moves to ease labour costs and red tape on Tuesday, has promised a “simplification shock” for business to help boost a sluggish economic recovery and generate jobs. But the government remains prone to imposing new restraints in the face of resistance by vested interests.

One of the long-established traditional taxi industry’s chief complaints of “unfair competition,” whatever the heck that means, comes with the burgeoning success of Uber cab and several similar French companies that are giving them a run for their money by arranging rides and payment with customers through their smartphones. As I mentioned last week, the unions managed to push through a law that would force such smartphone-hailing car services to wait through a completely arbitrary fifteen-minute [dis]grace period to pick up their passengers, but Uber, et al are so far determined to fight the law — which may explain why things got violent when an Uber driver tried to shuttle a passenger through the strike zone (i.e., you know, the highway) earlier:

But the protests turned violent when taxi drivers apparently attacked the Uber van that was transporting Kat Borlongan, co-founder of consulting firm Five by Five, and Eventbrite CTO Renaud Visage.

“Attackers tried to get in the car but our brave @uber driver maneuvered us to safety, changed the tire on the freeway and got us home.

— Kat Borlongan (@KatBorlongan) January 13, 2014″

“They also tried to open the doors, but fortunately our driver had locked them,” Visage told The Verge. While their van didn’t have any visible Uber branding on it, the protesters were attacking vehicles from all types of independent operators.

Uber confirmed the incident in a statement on its website. “That taxis chose to use violence today is unacceptable, that they chose to strike is their business,” the company said. “However, Parisians also have a choice when it comes to moving around in their city, and today’s incident certainly discourages Parisians from choosing a taxi for their next ride.”

Heh.


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