If you aren’t living under a rock, then you probably heard about Courtney Love’s frantic tweets after alighting from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris last week in an Uber, and promptly being “taken hostage” for an hour, along with her driver, by striking French taxi drivers. There were other accounts of cab drivers across France attacking cars occupied by pregnant women and children, lighting tires and cars on fire, and, in Lyon, beating a passenger to a pulp.
Summer strikes are as French as Bréton sailor shirts and baguettes de tradition. If it’s not air traffic controllers, it’s the trains or the metro or the trash collectors. This season, taxi drivers have turned up the heat in their ongoing war against what the French call VTCs, or car services, which were first legalized in France in 2009. Since then, companies like Allocab, Le Cab, and, of course, Uber, have flourished in a landscape that was chronically underserved by a professional taxi monopoly with no incentive to change. (By “change,” read: “expand the offer, lower the prices and clean up the attitude, not to mention the cars.”)
As you probably know, most of the new services are app-based, and despite what taxi drivers will tell you, all the aforementioned companies are legal in France. All it takes is a smartphone, a data plan and a credit card, and you’re good to go. Usually you’ll end up with a driver in a suit and tie, a lovely clean car, and a set fare—as opposed to Parisian cabs, whose drivers turn on the meter the moment you book, often arriving with $17 in charges before you set out for your destination, and love to take unexpected detours. (Also, contrary to what the French taxi unions will tell you, VTC drivers do pay taxes, they just do so under a different status than regular taxi drivers.)
What hasn’t been legal in France since the start of this year is UberPop. Rather than a standard professional driver and passenger setup, UberPop is a paid-for carpool service with far less regulation, and Parisians have rightfully been concerned about it since it launched. But since justice is as slow as everything else in this country, the app won’t be officially blocked until September. And as the events of last week showed, the finer points of Pop versus Uber classic (not to mention Le Cab and Allocab) haven’t really concerned the taxi drivers, who are still shocked, six years later, that their cozy situation has been upset.
Since last week, the situation has calmed considerably. As of Monday morning, two directors of UberPop have been held for questioning in Paris for inciting illegal employment and the storing of personal data, which should appease the taxi lobby for the moment.
In the meantime, know that until further notice, the strike is over, the violence has ceased, and if you get to downloading now, you can have your Le Cab or Uber or Allocab waiting for you at Charles de Gaulle when you arrive. That said, do read up on the latest news before your arrival, because taxi rage could flare up again at any moment. Search terms in French are “grève, taxi, Paris.” Bon courage!
Alexandra Marshall is a contributing editor and the Paris correspondent at Travel & Leisure. Food, design, architecture and fashion are her specialties, which means, living in Paris, that she is very busy. You can follow her on Twitter at @alexmabroad and on Instagram @alexandra3465.