French cabbies angry at Uber block Paris airports, stations

Paris (AFP) - Hundreds of French cab drivers angry at competition from ride-booking app Uber on Thursday blocked access to Paris airports and train stations as they protested losing customers to the popular service.

Access to three terminals at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport in the north of the city was blocked and cabs were converging on the Orly airport in the south and at train stations inside the city, officials said.

Taxi drivers in France are furious over an Uber service called UberPOP, which puts customers in touch with private drivers at prices lower than those of traditional taxis.

Licenced cabbies say the service is endangering their jobs by flooding the market with low-cost drivers.

UberPOP has been banned in France since January, but the law has proved difficult to enforce and the service continues to operate.

The striking cabbies also blocked a western section of the "peripherique" highway that encircles the French capital for about 30 minutes, overturning rubbish bins onto the busy throughfare before police moved in to restore the traffic flow, police officials said.

"The goal is to block space because we are really fed up," said Karim Asnoun of the CGT union.

Protesters slashed the tyres of a private-hire cab, another transport service that cabbies see as a threat, and then tried to flip the vehicle over before riot police intervened.

Similar scenes of disruption were being played out across France with cabbies blocking access to the train station in the southern city of Toulouse and others slowing access to its airport.

- Banned in France -

In Marseille protesters slowed traffic in the city and on roads heading to the airport.

"UberPOP is banned, but it's still here," cabbie Stephane Molla said in the southwestern city of Bordeaux.

"We have to go through the whole routine: the licence, the rates we don't set, bans on flat-rate plans," added another driver, Fabrice Moreau.

Fearing that its professional drivers will be mistaken for UberPOP drivers, the private-hire cab firm Allocab told its workers Wednesday to have passengers ride in the front seat.

Cabbies in France, like their colleagues in several other countries, have held several protests against the app -- some of which have turned violent, with Uber clients and drivers reporting being assaulted.

On at least two occasions in Strasbourg in the east of France last week, taxi drivers posed as customers in order to lure Uber drivers to isolated spots where they were assaulted by cab drivers and their vehicles damaged.

While popular with consumers, Uber is facing increasing limits on its activities in EU countries and a barrage of legal challenges spurred on by a furious taxi lobby, which says Uber drivers should be regulated the same way as normal cabs.

US-based Uber, which offers several types ride-sharing services, claims to have 400,000 UberPOP users in France. However, the drivers do not pay taxes, do not undergo the 250 hours of training that is mandatory for cabbies and do not carry the same insurance as taxis.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Tuesday UberPOP is "absolutely illegal". Paris prosecutors have promised to step up their efforts to crack down on the service.

UberPOP has been banned in France since January, with drivers risking up to a year in prison and a 15,000-euro ($16,800) fine.