The Long Running Issue of Taxi Competition in France

It’s often assumed that private hire and public hire taxi drivers don’t get along, as each one worries that the other is encroaching on…

Image of France in French Flag ColoursIt’s often assumed that private hire and public hire taxi drivers don’t get along, as each one worries that the other is encroaching on their business. Competition is rarely welcomed by taxi drivers, as they rely on the amount of fares they pick up during each shift to make a decent amount of income as well as cover outgoings such as MOTs, petrol and taxi insurance.

However, in France there is a very different situation, as until recently the only type of taxis available were public hire ones, with no private hire companies being allowed to enter the market. Some tried in previous years, however on every occasion there were protests by taxi unionists, leading to government officials conceding and leaving the taxi industry in its original state.

However, last year the government changed the law, allowing a number of people to start up “tourist vehicles with chauffeurs” companies, known as VTCs in France and comparable to the UK’s minicabs.
In previous years, Parisians have often complained that there are not enough taxis in the city, and compared to London this can be considered true. London has around sixty three thousand taxis in total – twenty three thousand black cabs and forty thousand minicabs – however in Paris there are only eighteen thousand taxis in the considerably larger city.

Talking to a number of Parisians last year, a reporter from the Telegraph found that many were unsatisfied with the taxi service available to them. Martin Pietz, a photographer, said: “One or two drops of rain and there are no taxis at all. When you do stop one, they can be very rude and if it it’s not on their way home or to lunch they often say: ‘Take another one, I’m busy.’”

This is why many Parisians welcomed the introduction of the VTCs, however taxi unions are far from impressed. Already, the situation has escalated numerous times to the point where there have been protests and the government has had to get involved. Jean-Michel Rebours, Defence of Paris Taxis Union, UDIP, said: “We have to pay 240,000 euros for a new taxi licence, and have a strict area where can work, while they pay just 100 euros to work where they want and can do what they like.”

However, many VCPs claim they are different from traditional Parisian taxis as they cannot be hailed on the street and they offer a different type of service to their customers. Yan Hascoët, who owns VCP company Chauffeur-Prive, said: “Our drivers are dressed in a suit and red tie, they open the door, make you feel at home in the car, doesn’t blast their own music and don’t talk unless talked to – just basic service which is hard to find in France.”

Even though they offer a difference service, the French government eventually passed legislation last year claiming that in order for VCPs not to encroach on taxi unions’ business they must wait at least fifteen minutes before picking up a private booking. Naturally, many VCP companies found this unfair, and rallied against it until earlier this month when the State Council announced the legislation would be suspended.

According to the State, the original legislation was a “serious and immediate blow to the economic interests” of private taxi companies, which defied “the principle of the freedom of commerce and industry.” Not long after, taxi unions across Paris arranged protests against the State, with many blocking off the main roads from Paris’ Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports. One protester who attended the strike earlier this month said: “We’re not on a level playing field. It’s like asking two boxers to go into the ring but you tie one of the boxer’s hands behind his back.”

As you can see, there is no love lost between private hire and public hire taxi drivers in France, and even though there have been numerous protests to ban them, it looks like VCPs may be here to stay. In order to appease the situation, the French government will more than likely analyse the legislation surrounding both taxi unions and VCPs in order to make the system fairer for all, however until then we expect for the issue to flare up on a regular basis.

Photo by Lokal_Profil / Wikimedia Commons

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