commentary June 11 was a special day in European taxi history. Demonstrations and strikes showed Europe-wide strength in solidarity and weakness in a lack of international cohesion and clout. Thousands of taxis and taxidrivers – many even on foot, like in Madrid, but with notable exceptions like Belgium, The Netherlands and the Nordic countries – took to the streets against several recent ills, with illegal apps and the lack of level playing field being the trade’s major headache.
These (very orderly) demonstrations, held on the same day in several European countries, proved to be a forceful demonstration of strength and weakness for the taxi industry in Europe. It was truly amazing that so many organisations and associations had improvised and followed the example of the London colleagues and, without any official organisation, made this day into a European Day of Taxi Protest with Uber as the Villain of the Piece. But also with local accents (like the fight against the laxly regulated Paris’ ‘VTC’, private hire-light).
For one day taxis made a true splash on the front page in every European newspaper and into the headlines of radio and TV-newscasts, drawing attention to the unequal fight for a level playing field in taxi regulation. Yet it remained a collection of national actions, with differing successes and with some (London) not even meant to be part of a European whole. There was a glaring lack of international coordination. And even associations which so often claim to represent the taxi industry internationally were – except for a few gratuitous tweets – conspicuous by their absence.
At the same time, Uber ruled the PR-waves. With equally national actions and statements, cleverly planned as a fight of the old against the new. From a Berlin mayor who just ‘happened’ to visit a new Uber office (and was photographed with an Uber cap and ‘I love Uber’ glasses), to the ‘launch’ of the UberTaxi-app, meant for use in London’s black cabs and the surprisingly “sharp increase” (+850%) of Uber app-downloads on the day. All smoke and mirrors perhaps, but an area – just like proper marketing – where the taxi industry desperately lacks an international voice and proper international organisation skills. The taxis created the headlines on June 11, Uber drew the attraction.
Text and photo: Wim Faber