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The Paris taxi smackdown

Paris' taxi driver union protests encroachment by motorcycle taxis on their business.

PARIS, France — Chauffeured motorcycles now bill themselves as attractive alternatives to Paris' full-size taxis and in-the-know travelers are using them.

This isn't your typical motorcycle ride. The usual amenities include a thick blanket-like cover to protect one’s legs from cold, a wind- or rain-resistant jacket and a helmet equipped with a built-in headset so passenger and driver can communicate during the journey — or just listen to the radio on personal speakers. As an added touch — and for sanitary reasons — passengers are handed a cloth cap to wear under their helmet.

But the biggest advantage motorcycle drivers offer is one they say a regular taxi cannot.

“What we sell clients is time and time is money,” said Sylvain D’Andrea, 37, who has been ferrying a clientele of mostly hurried businessmen and women for more than two years. The motorcyles can weave through traffic during Paris' rush hours in a way a regular taxi cannot. D'Andrea said he averages about six or seven fares per day. One ride costs from 35 euros ($50) within Paris to 75 euros ($107) for a ride to or from Charles de Gaulle airport.

David Pires, 54, drove a cab for 20 years before selling his license four years ago in order to drive a motorcycle.
(Mildrade Cherfils/GlobalPost)

That's right: The price of a ride on a motorcycle costs about 20 percent more than one in a taxi, which in Paris is often a luxury sedan.

But cab drivers are crying foul over what they say is encroachment on their territory, unfair competition and a threat to their livelihood. Adding their voices to the chorus of disgruntled workers this month, a few hundred cab drivers brought traffic to a crawl by driving at minimum speeds from the airports to the center of Paris during a protest they called "operation escargot," or "operation snail."

The strike was called by the Syndicat de Defense des Conducteurs du Taxi Parisien (Union to Defend Parisian Taxi Drivers). The other main trade unions did not join the strike although they said they supported the taxi drivers' effort.

Taxi drivers already accuse motorcycle transporters of not abiding by the rules, which prohibit motorcycles from having ostentatious logos displayed on their two-wheeled vehicles or from using the word “taxi” in any part of their name or promotion, even though most clients refer to them colloquially as “taxi-motos.”