Taxi drivers in at least three European countries have launched a strike to protest against mobile car-hailing services, such as Uber. A separate French train strike is expected to compound transportation woes.
Taxi drivers in London, Paris and Berlin are striking Wednesday to protest against unlicensed mobile car-hailing services, which they blame for chipping away at their client base.
The rise in unlicensed drivers and chauffeur services has shaken up the industry, with the main target of the drivers' ire being the San Francisco-based company Uber. Since the European arrival of Uber over the past 18 months, taxi drivers have been adamant about protecting their turf.
"Uber is deliberately not respecting regulations and, on top of that, has significant financial means," said Serge Metz, chief executive of France's Taxi G7.
The Uber car-hailing app allows clients to connect directly with "black car" services by reserving them through their app. The company was launched in 2009 and was recently valued at a staggering $17 billion (12 billion euros), one of the biggest-ever figures for a technology startup.
However, the company's app is only one of many new car services seen as bypassing strict regulations. There are now an estimated 10,000 vehicles and motorcycle taxis run by non-traditional taxi firms in France. Notably, drivers reserved through Uber are not required to pay the 240,000 euros for a license required by official taxi owners.
French taxi federations said drivers are expected to converge on the two main airports in Paris, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, and slowly head into the city. In a bold response to the protests, Uber said it would offer 50 percent off its services in Paris.
London's iconic black cabs will also congest traffic by slowly driving through main arteries in the city.
Protests are also planned for Germany's capital, Berlin.
French train strike
Meanwhile, French railway workers launched a 24-hour strike Tuesday evening to protest a reorganization of the rail system. The main impact of the strike is to be felt on Wednesday with French commuter trains and regional and national lines reduced to one-third of normal, train operator SNCF said.
SNCF human resources director Francois Nogue said, "The number of strikers will be high, notably among ticket collectors and drivers."
Trains to Germany will be unaffected.
hc/rc (AFP, AP)