| LONDON/PARIS, June 11
LONDON/PARIS, June 11 Commuters faced a day of
traffic chaos in London, Berlin, Paris and Madrid on Wednesday
as taxi drivers mounted one of the biggest protests against
Uber, a U.S. car service which allows people to summon rides at
the touch of a button.
Paris commuters faced gridlock getting into the city on
Wednesday morning when taxis slowed traffic on major arteries
into the centre. 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
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
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
But it has faced a series of hurdles from the beaches of
Miami to the piazzas of Rome.
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 capital.
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
Südkreuz 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 Madrid.
(Reporting by Sonya Dowsett, Lisa Jucca, Paul Day; Editing by