Blog: Simon WarburtonTaxing questions in France

Simon Warburton | 26 June 2015

Taxi sign (main) reads: "We won

Taxi sign (main) reads: "We won't let ourselves be Uberised. Today, the taxis, tomorrow, whose turn will it be?"

It's been an eventful week in French industrial relations - and that's a competitive field - as the country's hard-wired unionism exerts a summer push.

First up were striking ferry workers who - although you might argue had legitimate grievances regarding potential job losses - decided to wreak total havoc on Calais rail services as well as Eurostar operations - by placing burning tyres - a recurring theme - on the tracks.

Trains were turned around mid-Channel tunnel - after being stuck marooned under the sea - with passengers forced to reroute as far north as Birmingham and fly to Paris.

The ensuing chaos then saw many of Calais' 3,000-strong migrant population seize the chance to try and force their way into stationary queues of Britain-bound lorries and cars, a nightmare cocktail of security and border headaches that has caused recriminations on both sides of the English Channel.

But even this pales into almost insignificance give the extraordinary militant stand taken by thousands of highly disgruntled taxi drivers this week and who have mounted blockades on the Paris Peripherique using those burning tyres again, as well as mainline train stations and even at all three mega-terminals at Charles de Gaulle Airport itself.

I'm writing this from France where we had some first-hand experience of that taxi militancy yesterday. I'm here by kind invitation of Nord France Invest in whose territory lies a vast number of OEMs and suppliers all backed by some hefty State help.

We were in Lille and due to drive to Amiens, but our mini-bus couldn't get through the town due to blockading taxi drivers and police sealing off roads, so were obliged to hoof it pulling our cases behind us, along with hundreds of others along public roads to where we could be picked up.

The taxi drivers' worries concerning the huge popularity of Uberpop has led every French TV and radio bulletin since I've been here and it's hard not to feel some sympathy with both sides.

The taxi driver this afternoon patiently explained to me in order to secure his operator's licence, he had to pay EUR2,500 for training and a further sum to obtain a permit, whereas it appears the new upstart could see anyone with four wheels simply stopping on the road to pick up fares. And do they pay tax?

Isn't this a safety issue too? Taxis should be licenced to ensure vehicles are safe and maintained properly, while those travelling need to have confidence they have a competent, trained driver.

And just a minute - I used to hitchhike a lot when I lived in France - I had no idea about the car's safety although as soon as they realised I was English the drivers would frequently launch into a furious denunciation of some event that had happened - for which clearly I was somehow responsible - or would happily practice the language.

But this is the smart phone generation. We're all wedded to the things now and why shouldn't you call a taxi that will arrive in minutes and at vastly cheaper cost too?

On the one hand, French taxi drivers are exercising a traditional form of national protectionism, but on the other, as they rightly point out, they pay tax on their income unlike some rogue operators, who may not.

French people may also have some sympathy with the traditional taxis - before rushing to call Uberpop themselves - but I don't see how these two sides can co-exist for long.

France has a long tradition of union militancy, which vastly inconveniences huge numbers of people. But one taxi driver on strike said he was losing EUR150 per day. 

Maybe, just maybe, the French do it because they care.

Addendum

We visited Valeo this morning, whose plant sits right opposite the Amiens Goodyear tyre factory and which underwent an industrial dispute of seismic proportions a couple of years ago, with protesters setting fire to, presumably some pretty handy nearby tyres, blockading the entrance and most eye-opening of all, holding two senior executives hostage inside for 30 hours.

The dispute rapidly escalated to involve US tyre maker, Titan's CEO, Maurice 'The Grizz' Taylor launch a spectacular attack on what he thought of French working practices and in turn triggered a furious response from Paris' Economics Minister, Arnaud Montebourg, who denounced the American's remarks as "disparaging and ridiculous."

I asked Valeo if the dispute had affected the running of their site, but they politely side-swerved the issue preferring to concentrate on their R&D activity which could see them achieve 70g/CO2/km very shortly, a huge advance even from the strict 95g target set by the European Commission for 2021.

 

 

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