French taxi drivers today blocked roads to airports and train stations in Paris, as part of a nationwide protest against Uber. Thousands of drivers are expected to participate in today's strike in the French capital and other major cities, where tensions between taxi unions and private car services are running high. Protestors burned tires and turned over cars along major thoroughfares, and there have been reported scuffles between taxi drivers and other chauffeurs. Police in riot gear intervened at one point with tear gas, Reuters reports.

The police faced off Thursday with taxi drivers blocking access to the Paris ring road. Similar protests were held in other cities.
The police faced off Thursday with taxi drivers blocking access to the Paris ring road. Similar protests were held in other cities. © Ian Langsdon/European Pressphoto Agency - The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, who met Thursday evening with the taxi unions, deplored the violence, but saved his most angry words for Uber. He said the company behaved with “arrogance” in its flouting of French law and declared that “the government will never accept the law of the jungle,” referring to Uber’s stark form of competition.With blocked streets and fights still breaking out in several parts of Paris in the early evening, many Parisians were scrolling on their smartphones to find other routes home. And unsuspecting visitors found themselves inadvertently caught up in an increasingly heated labor dispute. Many turned to social media during the day to share their ordeals.The singer and actress Courtney Love assailed Paris as an unreliable destination when she posted on Twitter, to her nearly 2 million followers, about being caught in the protests. “They’re beating the cars with metal bats,” Ms. Love wrote. “This is France? I’m safer in Baghdad.”Ms. Love, the widow of the Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, wrote on her social media timelines that she and her driver were held hostage on her way from the airport until she was rescued by passing motorcyclists. It is not clear if she was using Uber’s service at the time.Other visitors to Paris could be seen trudging toward the airports hauling large suitcases, and on the Métro with strangers helping them to navigate the stairs. Some tourists seemed completely confused about why there were no taxis in Paris on Thursday.

French taxi unions have long held grievances against Uber, and the company's UberPop service, in particular, which relies on a network of non-professional drivers. They argue that enlisting amateur chauffeurs who don't have to pay steep licensing fees gives the San Francisco-based company an unfair competitive advantage. A one-time taxi license fee in France can cost up to €240,000 ($270,000). A representative from the FTI taxi union tells Bloomberg1 that revenues for French taxi drivers have fallen by between 30 and 40 percent over the past two years, due to increased competition from Uber and other ride-hailing services.

Following today's protest, France's interior minister ordered the Paris police to implement a ban on UberPop in the capital. "I have given instructions, considering the grave problems with public order and the development of this illegal activity, to the police prefecture in Paris to ban UberPop activities," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters.

  • 1. The San Francisco-based company’s UberPop application is already opposed by the government. Still, the tension between licensed taxi drivers and unlicensed drivers at Uber and other applications such as Heetch and Djump has been rising. Uber drivers have been attacked or threatened with violence.

    According to Morghad, taxis in France have seen revenues fall between 30 percent and 40 percent in the last two years because of such services.

    Uber says it has signed up a million users in France -- including 250,000 for UberPop -- in just over three years.

    France’s leading taxi company, Taxis G7, said it would be unable to take any bookings Thursday. Uber tariffs are likely to jump as they vary depending on demand.