Thousands of taxi drivers protesting Uber brought the streets of the capital cities of Europe to a standstill on Wednesday, but their efforts backfired as the publicity increased Uber’s sales dramatically.
Uber, a mobile phone app that allows users to hail and pay for a privately licensed taxi through their phones or tablets, is now operating in over 100 cities in 37 countries, and is angering taxi drivers who say that the technology threatens their livelihoods. In London, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, and Berlin, cab drivers demonstrated their anger by blocking the streets, causing a nightmare for the cities’ commuters.
In Paris, hundreds of cabbies drove incredibly slowly on the main routes into the city, while in Berlin about 1,000 taxi drivers blocked roads around the central train station and a city airport. Drivers in Madrid and Barcelona went on strike for the day. And in London, thousands of cab drivers brought the streets around Trafalgar Square to an almost complete halt for multiple hours in a demonstration that police said was illegal and a transportation report said would cost the city as much as £125 million.
Union official Steve Garelick, who represents the London cab drivers, expressed his resentment of Uber’s intrusion. “The long and the short of it is, allowing [a company like Uber] to come in and say they’re a tech company, that they don’t want to be licensed . . . is not fair,” he told CNN.
Madrid cab driver José Antonio Benitez is also unhappy with the new app. “It’s unfair competition,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “The government says they want a free market, but one that only hurts taxi drivers.”
Unfortunately for the cab drivers, their protests had an unintended consequence, as Uber claims that the number of people signing up for their app has increased eight-fold since the protests. The free publicity brought by the protests resulted in a surge in downloads in London especially, according to CNN. An Uber spokesperson explained that Wednesday was the company’s biggest day of signups in London since their launch two years ago. “In fact, today we’re seeing an 850% increase in sign ups compared to last Wednesday,” the spokesperson said.