PARIS -- French taxi drivers protesting Uber and similar ride-hailing services got unexpected publicity Thursday when they apparently assaulted a car shuttling high-profile singer Courtney Love.
"They've ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage. They're beating the cars with metal bats. This is France?? I'm safer in Baghdad," she tweeted to her 1.9 million followers. Her car's tires were slashed, she said, and after an hour being "held hostage," she "paid some guys on motorcycles to sneak us out, got chased by a mob of taxi drivers who threw rocks, passed two police and they did nothing." Love published a photo of a window smeared with egg and took French President François Hollande to task over the incident.
The celebrity drama spotlights a culture clash in France, where workers' jobs are protected and where laws often enforce traditions such as baguette ingredients and a ban on most Sunday shopping. Companies like Uber, whose drivers are flagged down by riders using a smartphone app, represent a more freewheeling capitalist approach. Uber embraces the Silicon Valley "disruption" religion and, but that message doesn't resonate with today's taxi drivers.
On Thursday they staged what appeared to be their biggest protest yet in France. The earlier "Operation Escargot" blocked traffic between Paris' two airports and the city center, but the new protest went beyond that with burning tires, an overturned car, a national scope and riot police responding in some areas. About 2,800 taxi drivers participated, according to French newspaper Le Parisien.
French taxi drivers are upset with what they say is unfair competition from services that aren't subject to the same regulatory controls and don't require expensive taxi licenses -- and with Uber's continued operations here despite new legal limits. Uber pays drivers' legal costs if they're caught in the crackdown.
Uber has had a rough time with governments. It's banned in Spain, and the company has also tangled with regulators across the US,, , the Netherlands, , , the , and .
Particularly thorny in France is the UberPop service, Uber's least expensive "ride-sharing" service that encourages anyone to register with Uber to carry passengers. The 2014 "Thévenoud Law" effectively banned Uber operations, but a French appeals court in March cast doubts on the legality of that legislation. Higher up the political hierarchy, the European Commission also could take a stand against the French law. Meanwhile, Uber continues to operate.