On Tuesday, January 26th 2016, I saw burgeoning, black smoke in Paris; smelled burning rubber; heard a French radio announcer talk about Paris being under siege. Hostages were taken; civilians were attacked and immobilized. There was shouting on the streets; many schools were closed; hospital staff was greatly reduced; 70 % of flights in and out of Paris were cancelled; police were everywhere.
The Parisian population was being encouraged to stay home or go underground since the subway was the only thing working. Oh yeah, and France is still under an official state of emergency due to potential terrorist attacks. But this had nothing to do with terrorism. This was France’s socio-political business as usual. This was Black Tuesday.
Taxi drivers, teachers, public hospital workers and air traffic controllers were on strike, holding major protests throughout Paris and other big cities. Even though it was the fourth strike in nine months for teachers, they were quite calm. There was no violence – only some speeches, marching and even a bit of singing here and there. The taxi drivers,
however, were not. They were angry, young, and not so young, men throwing tires onto innocent people who were only trying to get to work. After that, they burnt the tires on the highway and blocked the roads, putting those poor commuters in physical danger. Then they got to meet with the Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, in an emergency noon meeting at the French Presidential Palace. Burning rubber opens doors.
There were more than two thousand taxi drivers in Paris protesting against the unfair competition that Uber, Le Cab and other private companies present to their trade. Yes, it’s a bum deal but if there was no need in the marketplace for an alternative to the taxis that were often absent, arrogant and not at all skilled in customer service, Uber would not flourish. I was a supporter of the taxi cause in the beginning and for a while. I purposely did not use the Uber app and defended the classic French taxis in dinner conversations. After this last demonstration, I have definitely changed my mind. I would rather walk than ever again take a Parisian taxi.
Grown men throwing temper tantrums and taking innocent bystanders hostage is no way to win anyone’s heart or wallet. The taxi drivers’ demands are simple – only two possible choices for the government. The first one would be to eliminate the competition by outlawing all alternative forms of taxi transportation.
The second one would be to reimburse every taxi driver for their license (which could cost up to 250,000 euros; about the same price in dollars). Neither of these demands are realistic. Taxi drivers have to wake up and smell the coffee before someone else drinks it.
The unfair competition battle cry just does not cut it any longer. The market has changed, that’s it. Smart phones have taken over our lives and our transportation. When the internet practically totally eliminated the need for stamps and letters, the post office (even the French one) changed. They adapted to the market and created other services that the public might want – banking, sending mail via internet, easier pick-up and delivery services. The post office didn’t try and make people still write letters so they could still sell stamps and deliver them. They found a way out.
The license part is a little tricky since not everyone has paid the same price for it. But I’m sure there is some way around that and, in the end, the government will find a way to compensate the drivers who are losing their big investment. Let’s just remember that, in the first place, it was the taxi drivers themselves who wanted this license to be expensive and limited so that their jobs would be “protected”. Looks like that plan backfired.
The taxi strike and highway barricade lasted for three days in and around Paris. Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister, has agreed to appoint a new mediator to resolve this conflict. (No taxi driver thinks that will do any good.) On Friday, the police-ordered tow trucks removed the last of the cars that were blocking the entrance to Paris at Porte Maillot. I am sure the drivers will have to pay a hefty fine to get back their impounded cars. And I can also imagine that they will most likely take a Uber to go to the tow yard. Taxis are scarce and too expensive anyway. Back to Square One.