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French cab drivers protest Uber: What Paris might learn from Peoria, Ill. (+video)

French taxi drivers on Thursday blocked roads to train stations and airports in Paris and other cities in a nationwide protest against ride-hailing company Uber. But two US cities offer possible paths to compromise.

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    Parisian taxi drivers joined in a nationwide strike against Uber on Thursday. The taxi drivers blocked the access roads to two of the capital's biggest train stations, and threw eggs at Uber cars.
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Add France to the list of countries unhappy with Uber.

French taxi drivers took to the streets Thursday, blocking roads to train stations and airports in Paris and other cities as part of a nationwide protest against the ride-hailing company, Reuters reported. The rallies, which have merited the presence of police in riot gear, are the latest in a series of battles that Uber is fighting worldwide over issues ranging from driver’s wages to sexual harassment to cabbie competition.

The last, as France is proving, has been the source of the most heated disputes, both in and out of court. But irate taxi drivers in Paris and elsewhere who are looking for protections in the face of low-cost, high-tech competitors might find a path forward in two different US models of compromise: One in New York City, and another in Peoria, Ill.

On Wednesday, the city council in Peoria approved an ordinance that allows transportation network companies such as Uber to operate in the city. The legislation gives taxi operators fare flexibility similar to that which is enjoyed by Uber for pick-ups that are pre-arranged via phone or app – but retains the city’s fare cap for taxis hailed on the street, according to the Peoria Journal Star.

Cab companies will also have the option to buy the insurance required of Uber, which has lower coverage minimums. Rules relating to driver background checks and vehicle inspection and maintenance are the same for both taxi and transportation network companies. According to the Journal Star’s editorial board:

The city set out “to strike a balance,” said City Manager Patrick Urich, with neither side getting everything it wanted. Uber may not quite have the same advantages it does in other metropolitan areas, and the longstanding cab companies – seven of them now operate in the city – will have additional competition.

Two days before the Peoria City Council’s vote, New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission unanimously passed a set of new rules for addressing the growth of ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft, whose vehicles, to the alarm of taxi drivers and companies, outnumbered the city’s yellow cabs as of March.

The new rules require app services to supply information on surge pricing – ensuring that customers are aware of increased charges at the beginning of a ride – and to generate itemized receipts, customer service contact information, and fare estimates.

A major point of contention was a rule that Uber worried “could have been read to mean that it had to seek the commission’s approval for any software changes, which Uber said could stifle innovation,” the New York Times reported. The commission insisted that wasn’t the intent, but modified the final proposal to say it required notification, not approval, of software updates, according to the Times.

Both models have limitations. The Big Apple’s new rules are a small and perhaps unsatisfying compromise in the larger scheme of things; Michael Woloz, a spokesman for New York’s Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, which represents taxi medallion owners, called Uber a “spoiled child” and told the Times that requiring software approval was a “a perfectly reasonable thing for a regulatory agency to ask for.”

There’s also no guarantee that regulations such as Peoria’s can be adapted to larger metropolitan areas, where the laws, politics, and balance of power may be different. In places such as Paris, for instance, the sticking point for taxi drivers is UberPop, a service that uses non-professional drivers who don’t have to pay France’s steep taxi licensing fees – which can cost up to $270,000, according to The Verge.

Thursday’s protests, which have devolved into scuffles between drivers and intervention from French riot police, show that tensions there may have reached breaking point.

“We are faced with permanent provocation (from Uber) to which there can only be one response: total firmness in the systematic seizure of offending vehicles,” Serge Metz, head of Europe’s G7 taxi firm, said on French television, Reuters reported.

“We are truly sorry to have to hold clients and drivers hostage,” he added. “We’re not doing this lightly.”

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