“Uber cabs are stealing our clients. . . . We are regulated to death while they circumvent the law.”
– Paris cab driver José Losada, 36, telling the New York Times why tens of thousands of cabbies across Europe are blocking traffic today to protest San Francisco-based Uber. The backlash pits Silicon Valley’s disruptive technology against an entrenched, heavily regulated industry, and today’s demonstrations threaten to cause gridlock in major European cities such as Paris, Madrid, Berlin and London. Uber, which was valued at a whopping $18.2 billion last week, lets users arrange for a ride through its smartphone app, but traditional taxi drivers say the company skirts local regulations and its cheap prices threaten their livelihood. Uber has faced the same complaints in the U.S. — and has been blocked from operating in cities such as Miami and Las Vegas — but decades of tradition and stricter regulation in Europe make the issue even more of a flash point there. “For years the government has slapped new fees onto taxis and imposed more constraints — everything from car colors to, now, GPS tracking,” Nadine Annet, vice president of France’s FNAT taxi association, told Bloomberg News. “The least we’re asking for is that our competitors get the same tough love.”
Uber maintains it pays its required taxes, provides jobs for tens of thousands of drivers and is more convenient to customers. “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,” Uber executive Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty told Reuters.
At top: Taxi drivers block a highway outside Paris on June 11, 2014, as they take part in a demonstration against Uber. (FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)