Uber, the service that allows you hail a car ride from your smartphone, has faced bureaucratic obstacles and legal challenges in nearly all of the cities where it has tried to expand, typically from local taxi and limousine commissions that aren’t happy about the competition. Today in Paris, those paperwork protests turned into smashed windows and flat tires.
Five thousand French taxi drivers are on strike today . . . Multiple men allegedly attacked an Uber car carrying passengers away from the airport . . . Uber has been operating in France since December, when new rules allowed such phone-based services to pick up passengers as long as they wait 15 minutes.
In Paris, the cabs are problematic. One can only get them at designated taxi stations, which often requires one to walk several blocks. (Interestingly, one can call for them from a hotel or apartment, but they put the meter on when they receive the call, not when they pick you up.)
And the French way, dating back to the Revolution, is to protest changes that people do not like by calling disruptive strikes (often involving some violence), which appears to work. This element of lawlessness appears to be accepted as legitimate protest in France.
As I suggested a while back in discussing Gordon Tullock’s work, it is possible that the French cab drivers – while protected from competititon – are not earning monopoly returns. For example, if they are restricted through a medallion system, the purchasing of the medallions would have paid the previous owner an amount that would have covered the higher than competitive returns that were expected from the ownership of the medallion.
These stable, but pernicious arrangements are often disrupted by technological innovation. What this suggests is that when measuring the benefits that new technology provides to us, we should not only consider the productivity gains they make possible, but also the circumventions of problematic regulations.