The attacks by striking cab drivers on Uber cars in Paris on Monday — with protesters shattering windows, smashing mirrors and slashing tires — appear to be the first violent clashes in the ongoing battle between local cabbies and app-based car services.
But tensions, in Paris and elsewhere, have been brewing for months. Cab drivers say Uber and apps like it, which allow customers to hitch rides nearly instantly from their smartphones, create unfair competition and undermine the traditional cab-hailing business.
When Uber launched in New York, the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission reportedly pressured the drivers of licensed “yellow” taxis not to join Uber’s fleet.
Taxi drivers stop the traffic on the highway leading to Paris on Jan. 10, 2013, at Roissy Airport. (Remy de la Mauviniere/AP)
According to its website, Uber operates in 26 countries and more than 50 cities and has ambitious plans to expand.
But the San Francisco-based startup has faced stiff legal hurdles at nearly every turn. Last month, Toronto officials charged Uber with operating without proper licenses. The company ran into similar regulatory issues in Vancouver.
In Portland, Ore., Uber has urged lawmakers to change an ordinance requiring cars to wait an hour before picking up would-be passengers.
In Paris, a “15-minute law” went into effect on Jan. 1, requiring all Uber drivers to wait 15 minutes after a request is placed to pick up a passenger — a move aimed at leveling the competition for traditional Parisian cabbies.
Nonetheless, hundreds of unionized cab drivers participated in Monday’s protests in Paris, demanding a 30-minute delay, minimum fares and a driver recruitment ban. At least 12 Uber cars were targeted, according to local reports.
Renaud Visage, co-founder of the online ticketing service Eventbrite, was traveling in one of the cars when it was attacked.
“We are more shaken up than hurt,” Visage told TechCrunch. “We are still in shock because of how violent the attack was.”
According to The Associated Press, at least one person was injured in Monday’s protests.
In a statement, Uber condemned the violence:
“Uber strongly condemns this morning’s incident where two Uber users and their driver were confronted with severe violence.
“First, we are very glad all involved are safe and ok. Also, we would like to praise our partner who has shown great courage and professionalism and focused on getting his customers out of a very challenging situation.
“That the taxis chose to use violence is unacceptable, that they chose to strike is their business. However, Parisians also have a choice when it comes to moving around in their city, and today’s incident will certainly not tempt Parisians into choosing a taxi for their next ride.”
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