France’s Conseil d’Etat (top judiciary handling administrative matters) took up its role as arbiter this week of the now internationally infamous dispute between taxis and chauffeur services over the 15-minute law (actually a presidential decree), which came into effect this past January. The ruling came down today, as reported in LeFigaro, that the decree would be suspended, due to the “long wait” and “economic impact” that it had on consumers and businesses.
[UPDATE] Following the decision, we asked SnapCar Cofounder Dave Ashton for his thoughts on the ruling. He adds:
“To be clear, the 15 minutes decree is suspended, it’s not cancelled. The decision to re-institute it – or to invalidate it permanently – won’t be taken formally until after a much longer process. But for the moment it’s as if this decree doesn’t even exist anymore, which is a step in the right direction and a good decision by the Conseil d’Etat. They understand the decree for what it is: a bald-faced effort to protect a monopoly that’s neither in the short term interest of consumers nor in the long term interest of the industry. And perhaps – just maybe – they also see how futile it is to try and stop people’s use of technology to make their lives better. Let no one say that the French don’t get it. They get it.”
The law, which was an attempt at finding a compromise to alleviate the concerns of both the powerful taxi lobby and the fast-growing chauffeur services sector, ended up doing anything but. As we’ve covered extensively, the chauffeur services were predictably outraged by being targeted with an arguably ‘anti-competitive’ law, while taxis felt the law didn’t go far enough, cried foul when they felt that chauffeur services weren’t complying and went on strike in protest (which didn’t end well).
In the midst of the fall-out of the decree, chauffeur services Allocab, Le Cab, Chauffeur-privé and SnapCar, decided to take the matter to France’s high court for administrative issues to get them to render judgement one way or the other on the decree. Their principal argument is not only that the law is anti-competitive, but also that it is putting their businesses at risk.
In speaking with Le Figaro, Allocab’s CEO Yannis Kiansky stated that since the law has come into affect, they’ve noticed a marked increase in people abandoning orders, resulting in tens of thousands of euros in lost sales. Many of the lost sales actually came from corporate customers that while often placing orders in advance, are also big users of immediate chauffeur services. It’s pretty safe to assume that Allocab aren’t the only ones taking a direct revenue hit on this. At the very least, chauffeur services can take heart that France’s authority on competition has expressed its strong reservations about the law, which likely was an important factor in helping to sway Conseil d’Etat in the chauffeur services’ favor.
Meanwhile, the taxis are planning to strike. Yes again
Because the 15 minute delay wasn’t enough, before today’s ruling was even announced the taxi lobby had planned on two new strikes, on February 10th and March 13th. Their initial goal was to completely neutralize the chauffeur threat by pushing for the 15 minutes to be extended to 30 or even one hour with a minimum 60 euro charge. However, in light of today’s ruling, you can be sure that the strikes will be more contentious than ever. Given the taxi lobby’s ability in the past to put the breaks on most efforts to ‘liberalize’ the taxi / chauffeur sector, one can bet that it won’t give up on this one. With President Hollande’s recent social-democrat turn, an on-going conflict could pose a problem for him and his government on several fronts.
Although services like Uber et al have certainly faced regulatory challenges elsewhere, big cities like NYC and London seem to have found a way for the two to (fairly) peacefully coexist. UNCC, a new French association representing members from both chauffeur service and taxi lobbies, is drawing inspiration from these examples and hoping to get to a solution that works for all parties. Perhaps with a little effort and compromise, we all can get along.