Thousands of taxi drivers in large European cities protested Wednesday against smartphone car-paging applications like Uber, although the European Commission defended them as beneficial to consumers.
San Francisco-based Uber, which has become the target of the European taxi drivers’ wrath, said the protests were out of proportion and sought only to maintain the status quo and close the door to new consumer alternatives.
The protests snarled traffic in several large European cities, including Madrid and Barcelona.
In Barcelona, the city government said 4,000 taxi drivers took part in a pair of demonstrations, one in the city’s downtown and the other along the route connecting the airport and the Sants railway station.
Hundreds of taxi drivers from across Spain took part in a 24-hour protest in Madrid that left the capital virtually without cab service and caused traffic tie-ups.
Spain’s main taxi organizations delivered a letter to the national government complaining that smartphone car-paging services like Uber operate outside the law, noting that they do not have to go through the same regulatory hurdles as the traditional taxi trade does.
They also warned about the safety risks that users face when hiring rides from freelance drivers.
Large-scale taxi drivers’ protests also were held in London, Paris, Berlin and other cities.
The European Commission, however, defended the new type of car-sharing service and said strikes and protests are not the answer.
“A strike won’t work: rather than ‘downing tools,’ what we need is a real dialogue where we talk about these disruptions caused by technology,” Neelie Kroes, the European Union commissioner for digital agenda, said on her blog.