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War between French taxis and Uber deepens, unlimited strike Thursday

Taxi drivers demonstrate during a protest against car-sharing service Uber in Nantes, western France, June 9, 2015
Taxi drivers demonstrate during a protest against car-sharing service Uber in Nantes, western France, June 9, 2015 REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Tourists are bracing themselves for a nightmarish gridlock on roads from Thursday, as French taxi drivers prepare for unlimited strike action in protest against Uber. The Californian ride-sharing service announced this week it was opening up its controversial Uberpop-booked via smartphone apps-in 3 new French cities, despite it being illegal. 


France's taxi wars took a new twist on Friday night, when several taxi drivers parading as clients, tricked a group of UberPop drivers into picking them up, before later attacking them.

It's yet another display of the simmering tensions between traditional taxi drivers and UberPop, whose operators use GPS-enabled smartphones to link up with passengers. A service considered as "unfair competition," by taxis, which say UberPop is undercutting their pay.

UberPop's 4-euro minimum fare is less than the 6.86 euros that the government set for taxis. And their drivers don't need to pay the same level of taxes as conventional taxi owners.

On Friday, taxi unions around the country called for an unlimited strike this Thursday, in front of airports and major rail stations.

"We will stage sit-ins, no marches," Karim Asnoun of the left-leaning CGT union, told AFP. "The aim is to occupy the entire space, because we are fed up," he said.

Taxi drivers brought traffic to a standstill in February this year, and earlier this week, many of them refused to take fares, much to the frustration of numerous tourists.

Uberpop is technically banned in France, Uber drivers are not allowed to offer cab-hailing services, but must operate from a permanent base. In practice, this rule is seldom respected.

On Thursday, a UberPop driver was arrested during a rare control operation, for trying to pick up clients from Gare de Lyon, a train station in central Paris. He was later released on bail.

The legal uncertainties surrounding UberPop have allowed it to fluorish. Early this week, the American company announced it would roll out its services to three new French cities – Marseille, Strasbourg and Nantes.

The battle between taxis and Uber- a competition between a modern day fix to the urban scourges of congestion, using the internet, and an old closed-shop way of doing business, looks set to continue.

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