Up to 2800 French taxi drivers took part in nationwide protests on Thursday as part of their ongoing dispute with Uber. Protesters in Paris blocked roads to airports and train stations, burned tires and turned over cars, while some cabbies went as far as attacking Uber drivers and setting fire to their vehicles. The situation escalated to the point where riot police intervened with tear gas. Authorities reported that 70 cars were damaged and several police officials were injured in the protests. Ten people were arrested.
Singer Courtney Love was also caught up in the protests, live-tweeting an attack on her vehicle en route to the airport. In one message, Love tweeted: “They’ve ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage. They’re beating the cars with metal bats. This is France? I’m safer in Baghdad.” She then called on the French President to step in: “François Hollande where are the ******* police??? Is it legal for your people to attack visitors? Get your *** to the airport.”
Taxi drivers in France have a long-held animosity towards Uber, particularly their UberPOP service, which puts users in touch with a network of non-professional drivers at prices lower than those of French cabs. Registered cabbies argue that because Uber drivers don't have to pay the same steep licensing fees that they do (a one time fee can cost up to $270,000), this gives the San Francisco-based company an unfair competitive advantage. They also claim the service is endangering their jobs due the abundance of low-cost drivers.
A new law that came into effect in January effectively banned UberPOP in France, but it has proved difficult to enforce and the service continues to operate in a gray legal area. While many French officials have said the service is illegal, the courts have allowed it to continue, pending a ruling from a constitutional court which began deliberating the case on Tuesday. The protester's main demand is a block on Uber's smartphone app, rendering the service inoperable.
Following the protests, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve issued a statement asking police to issue a decree making UberPOP illegal for a second time. He added that only a court order can make the Uber app illegal in France. Officials pointed out that out of the 50,000 taxi drivers in the country, only a small percentage took part in these demonstrations.
This is not the first violent incident against Uber from enraged taxi drivers in France. In recent weeks nearly 100 of the company's drivers have been attacked, even some customers have been assaulted for using the service. The company issued this statement regarding Thursday's incident:
“Uber firmly condemns the recent acts of violence against Uber partners and their cars, perpetrated today in Paris and in other French cities; whatever the anger, violence is never acceptable."