PARIS (AP) — Cabbies and train workers walked off the job on Wednesday, leaving traffic snarled in some of Europe's biggest cities as they protested changes to the travel industry that they say could endanger passengers and give untested upstarts an unfair advantage.
Travelers in France faced the brunt of the strike, with the Paris commuter rails and the national train network down to one-third its usual capacity at the same time as taxis refused to take fares and blocked major highways leading into the French capital by traveling at a snail's pace. Taxi drivers staged similar protests in London and Berlin. Apparently timed for the strike, the app-driven car service Uber released an app directed at London customers and in Paris was offering free rides to some customers.
"It means that the message must be heard, it means that there's something wrong in Europe," said Salem Ferrari, a 34-year-old taxi driver who has been in the business for more than three years.
Workers on the French national railway SNCF are striking over plans to streamline and open the state-run network, considered among the world's best, to private competition.
Taken together, the concerns reflect growing upheaval in the travel and transport industry, largely due to technologies that have made things easier for travelers but which have caused workers to voice concerns about safety — and their jobs.
"The fact is that digital technology is changing many aspects of our lives" said Neelie Kroes, the European Union vice president in charge of digital affairs. "We cannot address these challenges by ignoring them, by going on strike, or by trying to ban these innovations out of existence."
Some of the changes and the debate surrounding them:
PRIVATE CAR SERVICES
Services like Uber and Chauffeur Prive, the crux of Wednesday's taxi strike, allow passengers to hail a ride from a mobile app. Taxi drivers, who can pay tens of thousands of dollars (euros) for their medallions, complain that it's unfair and that drivers of the private services don't face the same training or licensing requirements. Uber has been banned in Brussels, and come under scrutiny in Spain, but the European Union is pushing for acceptance, saying it benefits consumers.