Not all bad: the winners of the French strike

Mariëtte Le Roux
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Walking has been the most convenient option for many, even if has meant a doubling or more of their daily commute

Walking has been the most convenient option for many, even if has meant a doubling or more of their daily commute (AFP Photo/Aurore MESENGE )

Paris (AFP) - The longest continuous transport strike in French history has exasperated Paris commuters and robbed businesses of vital foot traffic. But while many deplore the impact on their lives and livelihoods, for some the stoppage has been a boon.

"For us taxis it's been good," 55-year-old Jean-Robert Philippe, an independent driver, told AFP of a strike that began on December 5, with transport only gradually returning to normal.

He said his daily pickups had been double the usual for a month of December -- often quiet for taxis as Parisians leave town for their family holidays.

As train and metro transport in the capital came to a near standstill for weeks on end, Paris' streets exploded into a cacophony of bells and car horns as pedestrians and cyclists engaged in a mad jostle for space with electric scooters, motorbikes, cars and buses.

- Scooters zoom ahead -

Transport company Lime reported a 75 percent rise in electric scooter rentals in Paris over the strike period, with as many as 120,000 users on days of mass protest when rail transport was especially disrupted.

There were about 4,000 new Lime users daily on average, it said, with a high of 8,000 first-timers on the first day of the strike.

Cityscoot, which rents out electric versions of the traditional seated scooter or moped, said rentals grew 150 percent in December compared with a year earlier, and new subscriptions rose by 400 percent.

The strike saw taxis, legally prohibited from hiking prices, booked out sometimes days in advance as Uber fares rose in line with demand and rental agencies ran low on cars.

- Car-pooling to the rescue -

Filling part of the void were car-pooling apps such as Karos, which told AFP it had 100,000 new subscribers in December, "which is eight to 10 times as many as a usual (non-strike) month."

To try and ease commuters' pain, the transport authority of the greater Paris Ile-de-France region increased a subsidy for car-pool drivers, allowing commuters -- if they were lucky enough to find an available driver -- a free return trip daily within an 80-kilometre (50-mile) limit.

For longer distances, buses tried to fill some of the void left by thousands of cancelled trains.

The Flixbus low-cost carrier said it had provided about a quarter more buses than usual over December to "help hundreds of thousands of people... get around and spend the holidays with their loved ones."

It transported more than a million passengers in December, nearly double the number a year earlier, the company said.

- Deliveroo lunches -

Many have opted simply to walk to work, though the commuting time more than doubled for some.

Yves Benchimol, co-founder of exercise tracker WeWard told AFP that an analysis of 500,000 users of its mobile App in major French cities revealed that "on average, an individual walked 11.3 percent more since the strike started".

All the better for burning those calories: as the transport chaos marooned workers, leaving many to telecommute, meal delivery company Deliveroo said it took 20 percent more lunch orders in Paris in December -- 25 percent including the suburbs.

In one of these, Aulnay-sous-Bois to the capital's northeast, baker Lofti Baushih had few complaints.

Sales tripled on the first day of the strike as locals who normally spend their daylight hours far away in the city took the day off or worked from home, popping in to buy his bread and pastries.

"We worked like crazy," he said with a happy smile from behind the till.

As Parisians have walked and cycled more, with many potential health benefits, there has also been a boost for pollution-blocking face masks: French manufacturer R-Pur said it had seen a rise of 30 percent in sales.

- Virtual doctors' visits -

Another industry helped by the strike was telemedicine.

With doctors and patients both facing transport constraints, startup company Medadom, which created an App for online consultations, said the number of users grew by 50 percent since the strike started, with a record 320 consultations on a single day.

"Patients often indicate that they could not find an available doctor or were unable to get to their doctor as a result of the transport paralysis," cofounder Nathaniel Bern told AFP.