Last month, London taxi drivers vandalized Hailo offices and promised the worst is yet to come. Today, they delivered on that promise. In a demonstration against Uber and Hailo, cab drivers across major cities in Europe are causing complete gridlock.
Drivers are claiming that the e-hailing services are threatening their livelihoods. In order to drive a taxi cab in most major cities, you must purchase a medallion or similar license that allows your car to transport paying passengers. You then have to abide by the rules of the taxi authorities in your city, which requires drivers to pass certain tests (in London, it's called "The Knowledge") and background checks. The medallions are often controlled by several major companies, as is the case in New York, and the companies can have major political power in the form of lobbyists. When the medallion managers and taxi drivers aren't happy, it can cause a disaster for the city. In this case, it caused continent wide traffic trouble.
The strikes are being held in London, Madrid, Berlin, and Paris. There are gatherings of over 30,000 taxi and limo drivers in tourist centers, shopping districts and office areas. They want Uber and Hailo to be regulated in a similar way to medallion drivers. Right now, Uber and Hailo technically are not car services. They are technology companies that offer an app that brings together drivers and people that need rides. Because of this, they escape taxi regulations. As they are a new technology, legislation does not yet exist to regulate them. In some places, that means they can operate freely and legally, to the distress of cab drivers, and in other places (like Virginia) the lack of existing regulation shuts them down.
Across Europe, the protests have been peaceful and very like minded. A Parisian taxi driver said, "There need to be the same rules for all" and his London fellow cabbie reiterated this, "We have to have a license to own a cab, we have to have a driver’s license, a cab driver’s license. For some reason they seem to be outside the law.”
As for Uber, they took the protest as a marketing opportunity. Uber issued a statement, "While the taxi protests may seek to bring Europe to a standstill, we’ll be on hand to get our riders from A to B." They also picked today to launch UberTAXI "opening up the Uber platform to London’s Black Taxis, bringing one more safe, reliable and seamless option to London riders." Perhaps frustrated taxi drivers will join
the dark side Uber. Uber will charge TAXI drivers a five percent commission, the the lowest of all the cab booking systems in London.
We can only hope that taxi drivers planned this protest with a mass email: "Time for some traffic problems in Europe."