They don’t know it yet, busy with shouting, burning tires, and deploring the “unfair competition” of their adversaries, but taxis are pedestrians and cyclists’ friends. And the chauffeur driven vehicles (voitures de tourisme avec chauffeur-VTC), Uber or not, are too.
At each new chapter of this battle, in January 2014, June 2015, and January 2016, we like to describe the battle as emblematic between uptight annuitants and faithless, lawless musketeers. Their rivalry is compared to that of the Minitel resisting against the Internet, the windmills replaced by the steam engines and the newspaper devoured by the online press.
We have forgotten, in the story, that taxis and VTC do not sell information, nor energy, but mobility. Let’s pose the question: who really needs a taxi? Hyperactive and super-connected executives that work in Auteuil and lunch in Monceau? Businessmen that want to catch their flight in terminal 2D or their train for Part-Dieu? Tourists who debark from Gare du Nord or Orly? Certainly. But they are not the only ones.
Another part of the population, nowadays largely ignored by taxis, could constitute a loyal, profitable clientele. It consists of people who don’t own a car, or who don’t wish to use them. They are much more numerous than we generally think--and not only in Paris. In the heart of Ile-de-France, more than half of the homes do not own a personal car: 30% in Val-de-Marne, 33% in Hauts-de-Seine, 37% in Seine-Saint-Denis. In all the French cities, between 20% and 30% of the population is in the same situation.
Potential taxi clients don’t spend their time scrolling through applications on their smartphones to compare the price between G7 and Snapcar. They don’t have business meetings at La Défense. No. They take the metro to Aubervilliers, the RER toward Sucy-en-Brie and the bus to Périgueux. They walk, or pedal. When they need to go farther, to transport suitcases, or a very old person, they hail a taxi. Provided, of course, that they find one.
It’s in the suburbs, the small cities, and the country that we need taxis. Not necessarily the black and chrome models with plush seats and tinted windows. Not necessarily the fast cars that come with a burst of speed. Not always with wi-fi or water bottles -- but just a reliable car, with an experienced driver. The demand is there.
The number of trips will not stop growing: the permanent traffic, the stress, the cost of personal cars, the pollution that has cities pleading for a less motor-obsessed society. That is, in fact, the wish in the current discourse, for the majority of economic and political policy makers. Uber and taxis have a role to play. But for now, they are busy squabbling.
Do you often use taxis and carsharing services in your city? Do you believe the competition is beneficial? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in French here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.