London, Paris, Madrid: Taxi drivers around the world are protesting innovation, competition

If innovative and wildly successful ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft — which ingeniously allow customers to hail and pay for a GPS-traceable taxi cab through a smartphone app — have been facing regulatory hurdles and legal challenges in Washington, D.C. and New York City, they’re practically nothing compared to the veritable war European taxi drivers and unions are waging to thwart them.

With even larger bureaucracies, more under-the-table corruption and cronyism, farther-reaching regulations and the accompanying capture, more expensive taxes, and more inflexible labor laws, the good ol’ fashioned free-market competition that these new businesses are dishing out is an excellent and rapidly unfolding test of Europe’s willingness to either accept partial creative destruction as the growth-positive force that it is — or else allow their economy/economies to continue to languish in stagnation mode.

But the entrenched taxi businesses will not be going gently into that good night. Via Reuters:

Taxi drivers sowed traffic chaos in Europe’s top cities on Wednesday by mounting one of the biggest ever protests against Uber, a U.S. car service which allows people to summon rides at the touch of a button.

Drivers of hundreds of London’s black taxis snarled traffic in the streets around Trafalgar Square, hooting their horns as they passed Downing Street, the home of Prime Minister David Cameron, and the Houses of Parliament.

In Paris, taxi drivers slowed traffic on major arteries into the city centre during the morning commute. In Berlin hundreds choked the main road to the city’s historic centre while commuters juggled buses and trains, or simply walked, to get to work in Madrid and Barcelona. …

“This about an all out assault on our profession, our livelihoods,” said Max Small, a driver of one of London’s black taxis for 34 years. “These big companies are coming in, not playing by the rules.”

Taxi drivers across Europe level a variety of charges against Uber: that its applications break local taxi rules; that its drivers fail to comply with local insurance rules; and that it is therefore in breach of licensing and safety regulations.

You know, there might very well be something to the argument that new enterprises like Uber have an unfair advantage because they are managing to work outside of many European countries’ innovation-killing Procrustean bed of antiquated, prohibitive regulations, while traditional taxi drivers have to pay for expensive leases and medallions and training certifications and whatever other barriers to entry they’ve come up with over the years. Perhaps what they should be protesting, then, are those prohibitive regulations themselves, because their attempt to disparage new enterprises today… kind of backfired. Oops.

Taxi-hailing app Uber saw sign-ups jump to record levels on Wednesday, following a rush of publicity as cab drivers across Europe went on strike to protest against the company.

Marketing experts described the strike as an “own goal”, after Uber said there had been an 850 percent increase in sign-ups compared to last Wednesday. …

Andre Spicer, professor of organisational behavior at Cass Business School, described the strike as “PR gold” for Uber.

“It’s an own goal. Uber is top of everyone’s minds. Lots of people who have never heard of the app before now know what Uber is,” he told CNBC.