Paris commuters faced gridlock getting into the city on Wednesday
morning when taxis slowed traffic on major arteries into the center.
In London, up to 12,000 taxi drivers plan to tie up the streets
around Trafalgar Square, just a stone's throw from Prime Minister
David Cameron's official residence, from 2 p.m. (1300 GMT).
Taxi drivers across Europe say applications of companies like San
Francisco-based Uber Technologies Inc. are breaking local taxi rules
across the European Union and threatening their livelihoods.
Uber, valued last week at $18.2 billion just four years since its
2010 launch and backed by investors such as Goldman Sachs and
Google., contends its smartphone application complies with local
regulations and that they are being targeted because of their
success in winning customers.
"They're killing us off, starving us out," said Mick Fitz, who has
been driving a London black taxi for years. He and other black cab
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.
"With their taximeter, their apps that they use, their technology,
those are taximeters basically, which by law only we are allowed to
use," Fitz told Reuters.
Uber has touched a raw nerve in Europe by bringing home the dangers
of technological advances to one of the world's most visible trades.
A variety of apps for summoning taxis have threatened the
traditional taxi model in European cities such as London where
strict rules govern which cars can stop on the street to pick up
hailing customers and which cars have to be pre-booked.
Uber has expanded rapidly since it was launched by two U.S.
technology entrepreneurs, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, and now
operates in 128 cities across 37 countries.
"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's Regional General Manager for Western Europe, Pierre-Dimitri
Gore-Coty, told Reuters.
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 Valley startup.
But it has faced a series of hurdles from the beaches of Miami to
the piazzas of Rome.
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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 France, taxi drivers who have been on the warpath in recent
months over mounting competition from private hire car firms kicked
off their Wednesday protest by teaming up in large numbers to slow
traffic to snail pace on major motorway access routes into the
Adding to the gridlock, a strike at the SNCF state railway company
over planned reforms reduced high-speed TGV and Intercity services
by as much as 50 percent, while international rail links were also
reduced by about 30 percent.
About 1,000 Berlin taxi drivers were expected to protest against
taxi-fetching app companies, including Uber, between noon and 2 p.m.
(1000-1200 GMT), congesting roads between the Olympic Stadium and
Tegel Airport, Berlin Central Station and SŁdkreuz Station,
according to city police.
Taxis were also striking in Madrid and Barcelona. The two biggest
taxi unions in Madrid, who represent around 90 percent of cabs in
the capital, have called for a 24-hour strike from 6 in the morning.
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, which is operating in Barcelona but not
(Reporting by Sonya Dowsett, Lisa Jucca, Paul Day; Editing by Sonya
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