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French Taxi Drivers Launch Nationwide Uber Protest

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Paris and several other French cities were plunged into chaos today as taxi drivers protested against Uber, the big ride booking company. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, the protest blocked major roads and intersections for hours.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: I'm in the middle of Porte Maillot, a major, major intersection that's right off the beltway of Paris. It's completely blocked with taxi drivers who - there's no - nobody can drive. And there's been an altercation here. There's bottles all over the street. They've overturned an Uber car. They were burning tires. The riot police are out, all this because of Uber.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Protesting cabbie Zack Martin has been driving for eight years. He says Uber is unfair competition.

ZACK MARTIN: (Through interpreter) I have to work 11 hours for what I used to earn in nine. Every day our margins go down. Uber's taking our clients. There's no control over them.

BEARDSLEY: The cab driver's main complaint is that Uber drivers do not have to purchase a pricey taxi license and aren't subject to any of the safety and driving tests the cabbies must take. Tito Carvalio says he has a family to support and debts to pay and he doesn't know if he'll even have a job in two years.

TITO CARVALIO: Yeah, my license, my taxi license, cost 250,000 euro. How come I'm able to pay this to work and other guys coming from nowhere they're able to do the same job than me without nothing? Would you accept this?

BEARDSLEY: Since Uber appeared in France last year, anger amongst traditional cab drivers has been rising.

BEARDSLEY: (Speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: (Speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: One irate cab driver smacks my microphone out of my hand. It falls to the ground. His colleagues chase him away and apologize profusely. Rock star Courtney Love happened to be in Paris today and tweeted that her Uber car was pelted with eggs and her driver taken hostage. I'd have felt safer in Baghdad, she said.

The Uber competition for Paris taxis hasn't been all bad. It's forced some drivers to be a little more accommodating to their clients. Speaking on television, Thibaud Simphal, director of Uber France, says his company is responding to public demand and creating jobs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THIBAUD SIMPHAL: (Through interpreter) A million French people are already using Uber and they tell us they love the service, so we're going to keep expanding unless the law tells us we can't.

BEARDSLEY: The French government seems at a loss over what to do about Uber. As the day ended, a Paris city official issued a decree banning the Uber application, but Uber says it will appeal. Meanwhile, with traditional taxis tied up all day in protests, demand for Uber was so high that the company warned its app might crash. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.