Seen from Paris, blog about Paris

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Paris cabs

The Paris Taxi War: news from the front.

In an utterly corporatist France, where entrepreneurship and competition is locked by Kafkaesque regulations and powerful lobbies, the awful Paris cab thought he had won the war. Until VTC happenned…

VTC? Véhicule de Tourisme avec Chauffeur, bien sûr!! That simply means cars with a chauffeur. The idea is since being a Taxi is a regulated business in France, why not create a similar yet different business to overrule the regulation.

Being a Taxi in Paris entails a few things. The most important one is that you need to get a licence, which cost around 250 000€ per licence and is quite scarce, since it is limited by the state. It was a system created to make sure Taxi will never face competition and make a good living. It never worked like that, and resulted more in an artificial shortage, making it impossible to find a cab when the metro shuts down on a Thursday night, and generating these long line under the rain at cab stations. And did you think cab drivers benefitted from that regulation? Of course not! Most cab drivers are hired by taxi companies who own the licences and pay them a minimum wage to get all crazy and aggravated after days and days of hectic driving in the City of Lights. A total failure, out of which only a few big companies – and a few lucky individuals who managed to buy a personal licence- can really enjoy the cash.

The technical advantage of a Taxi Cab is that you can stop one in the street. Well… Not really. First, shortage, therefore you need to bump into one, which sometimes is impossible. Second, in Paris, unlike in NYC or Brussels, you are supposed to walk to a Cab Station to hire one. And it’s not easy: not only one doesn’t necessarily know where the closest cab station is located, but there are more fake stations than real ones, as the powerful Cab Lobby has managed to demand that the city created these fake stations so that they can park their cabs and sleep or grab a bite. So the point of stopping a cab in the street  doesn’t really work in Paris. And that’s precisely why a few smart entrepreneurs developped VTC.

A VTC is a car with a driver that you have hired ahead of time. The law says it has to be hired at least 15 minutes before the client sits on the backseat. And as one can imagine, with our smartphones, it’s like a dream. You go to your favorite VTC app, you chose your car, you can rate your driver, he can rate you, etc. The glorious 21st century, in a nutshell! While the typical Paris cab is often rude and will take you around the city twice with the highest rate at the meter, the VTC driver is in a genuine commercial relationship and has a client to please. And the beauty part: you know the price ahead, since the VTC is not allowed to have a meter.

Of course, the powerful Taxi Lobby reacted. They seem to own the state, and that’s how the cab situation in Paris became so grotesque. For instance, the Lobby already managed to have the Taxi night rate start at… 5pm. FIVE O’CLOCK!!! Do you know any corporation that would pretend it’s night time in the middle of the afternoon??? That gives you an idea of the power of that lobby which can even abolish reason in order to make more money. And so, they organized a strike. That’s what corporations do in France when they disagree.

That strike did not go well. Not only because it pissed everybody off, by blocking all of Paris’s highways. But also because, in a semi-fascist way, they started stopping VTC and threatening their clients. Which also gives you an idea of the kind of people that drives cabs…

But that didn’t change a line to the problem. It’s too late. Even big companies, for comfort and budget reasons, prefer to hire VTC. Even the SNCF, the French railroads, is doing it. Why? Because they’re nicer and better.

Of course, in a wonderful world, I would prefer to stop taxicabs in the street, and deal with an entrepreneur trying to satisfy me instead of an exhausted exploited employee paying off somebody’s else licence. But that would mean putting an end to the licence system, or, and maybe better, to force the licence bearer to be a person and not a company. But if you are travelling to Paris, you might as well dig into VTC companies, such as Uber or chauffeur-privé.com, or more…

And moi, as a real Parisian, I will keep on lobbying for the metro to be open 24 hours, which would be my personal solution!