A yellow ribbon indicates the driver of a Paris taxi is on
strike. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
Taxi drivers have caused traffic chaos in Europe's top
cities by mounting one of the biggest ever protests against
Uber, a US 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.
San Francisco-based Uber Technologies Inc., valued last week
at $18.2 billion just four years since its 2010 launch, has
touched a raw nerve by bringing home the threat of
technological advances to one of the world's most visible
"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
Uber, backed by investors such as Goldman Sachs and Google,
refute all those allegations, a spokeswoman said. Uber said
it, its applications and its drivers comply with local
"What you are seeing today is an industry that has not faced
competition for decades. Now finally we are seeing
competition from companies such as Uber which is bringing
choice to customers," said Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, Uber
Regional General Manager for Europe.
"Across a number of different countries the taxi industry is
very similar - an industry which is highly regulated and
arranged in a way that is not pro-consumer but just promotes
Uber has expanded rapidly since it was founded by two U.S.
technology entrepreneurs, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp,
and now operates in 128 cities across 37 countries.
Uber Chief Executive Officer Kalanick last week announced
$1.2 billion in new funding, valuing the company at $18.2
billion, one of the highest valuations ever for a Silicon
But it has faced a series of hurdles from the beaches of
Miami to the piazzas of Rome.
Ordinances keep it out of cities such as Las Vegas and Miami
while in Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., Uber
and similar companies have faced lawsuits from taxi companies
hoping to keep the new competition out.
In London, the European Union's biggest city by population,
police helicopters monitored the traffic snarl around the
seat of the British government as mopeds and cyclists tried
to navigate the chaos and crowds of bemused tourists looked
Uber says its fares are cheaper than black taxis in London.
Other taxi drivers allege Uber's technology is effectively a
taximeter and thus contravenes a 1998 British law reserving
the right to use a meter for licensed black taxis.
They say the city's transport regulator, Transport for
London, is failing to enforce the rules. The regulator says
its provisional view is that smart phone applications do not
constitute a taximeter but has asked the High Court for a
After the disruptions, Uber hit back in Germany by emailing
its clients offering a 50 percent discount on all shared
rides for the duration of the day. In London the company
offered new customers 20 pounds ($33.58) off their first
In Spain, the Ministry of Public Works has warned that
companies or individuals offering Uber-type services faced
fines of up to 6,000 euros, while users could be fined up to
600 euros. The ministry has not specifically named Uber.
Neelie Kroes, the European Union commissioner in charge of
digital and telecoms policy, said responding to companies
like Uber with strikes was pointless.
"We cannot address these challenges by ignoring them, by
going on strike, or by trying to ban these innovations out of
existence," she said in a blog published on Wednesday.
It was an argument that failed to sway taxi drivers around
"Yes this is chaos, its causing havoc in the very centre of
London, but what other choice have we got?" said Ian Hay, a
taxi driver with 14 years experience.