Nearly 3,000 taxi drivers went on strike in cities across France on Thursday to demonstrate against the UberPOP service owned by Uber, as well as similar app-based businesses that they have also accused of unfair competition. Protests in Paris turned ugly, with taxi drivers vandalizing and overturning Uber cars and setting tires on fire while obstructing roadways and access to airports.
The unrest prompted Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to have Paris police issue an order that banned various services that use non-professional drivers, including UberPOP, Heetch, and Djump, from operating. In issuing the decree, Cazeneuve pointed to "the serious public order disturbances and development of this illegal activity."
"I ask all those in action not to engage in further violence," Cazeneuve said while traveling in Marseilles. Several taxi unions also called on strikers to act peacefully.
Angry cabbies also blockaded train stations or airports in cities that included Nice, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, and Lille.
The UberPOP app, which Uber launched in France in February 2014, has technically been illegal since the beginning of 2015 owing to the passage of a law restricting vehicle-for-hire services. Uber initiated various appeals processes in response, however, several of which remain ongoing.
The taxi unions behind the strike had been invited to meet Thursday at the office of Prime Minister Manuel Valls, but refused. They are seeking further measures to curtail Uber services on a broader scale. France has some 55,000 licensed taxis.
Taxi drivers reportedly began pursuing suspected Uber drivers during the demonstrations, and confrontations on the roadways grew heated and dangerous, stranding passengers. Two protesting taxi drivers were hit by nonprofessional drivers near the Roissy Charles-De-Gaulle and Orly airports. An iTélé camera filmed one of them shortly after he was hit.
According to Le Parisien, approximately 15 people in Lyons and Paris had been taken in for questioning by the end of the afternoon.
Rock star Courtney Love, the widow of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, was riding in a car near the Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport this morning when her vehicle was egged and attacked on all sides by protestors on the Paris ring road.
"They've ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage," she wrote on Twitter. "They're beating the cars with metal bats. This is France?? I'm safer in Baghdad."
François Hollande where are the fucking police??? is it legal for your people to attack visitors? Get your ass to the airport. Wtf???
— Courtney Love Cobain (@Courtney)25 Juin 2015
She paid a pair of motorcyclists to help her escape, she said, as a rock-throwing mob chased after her.
Jean-Claude Francon, the former president of the National Federation of Independent Taxis (FNTI), told VICE News that the government was responsible for the turmoil.
"They should have made changes long ago," he said, equating UberPOP's practices with illegal labor. "In a sense, the government is supporting illegal work."
Cab drivers have consistently focused on cost and wage inequalities between themselves and UberPOP's drivers.
"This morning's actions have hurt the cab drivers' cause," Françon added.
Taxi drivers feel threatened by services that put clients directly in contact with drivers, some professional and some, as in the case of UberPOP, nonprofessional. The cabbies have agitated against unfair differences in regulation, noting that they have worked according to specific rules for many decades.
French law restricts the number of licenses granted to taxis in France. Retiring cab drivers may resell their license to newcomers at a price that varies based on the city, and which can be as high as 240,000 euros in Paris, though the prices have lately been falling. French taxi drivers insist that this considerable investment in a license is untenable when newcomers can simply use services like UberPOP to circumvent the requirement. The unfair competition, they say, compromises the ability of cab drivers who have gone into debt for these licenses to recoup their investment.
Uber was created in 2009 and is now valued at 40 billion dollars. The business is active in approximately 250 cities and 50 countries throughout the world, and operates several app-based services in addition to UberPOP, such as UberX, Uber Berlin, and UberVan.
In many countries, Uber's presence has provoked conflicts with businesses, officials, taxi drivers, and other companies offering similar services. The site Rue89 has mapped these conflicts throughout the world.
In France, several incidents have affected Uber and taxi drivers. Over the last few weeks, there have been several fights involving Uber or UberPOP drivers, including in Strasbourg.
Follow Matthieu Jublin on Twitter: @MatthieuJublin Pierre Longeray contributed to this article.