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‘Starving us out’: Massive taxi demos block streets in major EU cities (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

‘Starving us out’: Massive taxi demos block streets in major EU cities (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)
Traffic chaos gripped major cities in Europe on Wednesday as taxi drivers in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and Portugal staged their biggest protest so far in the battle for their livelihood against taxi hailing apps.

A number of taxi summoning applications – the most popular of which is San Francisco-based Uber – have threatened the jobs of many licensed European taxi drivers, many of whom took to the streets in their cars for the massive demonstration.

Such applications allow users to see the nearest registered cars and hail them directly from their mobile. Licensed taxi drivers say this gives private hire cars an advantage while putting the traditional European taxi model and drivers' jobs at risk.

London tourist hubs blockaded

Up to 12,000 black cabbies and private hire cars jammed traffic near London’s tourist hubs of Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, and Parliament Square from 2 p.m. local time in a protest the taxi drivers started planning weeks ago.

The Metropolitan Police said that “repeated attempts” to contact the organizers of the campaign failed. In an open letter, the security authorities warned the taxi drivers that without official written notification, the protest "could give rise to criminal liability" and lead to arrest.

"Today's demo goes ahead, 2pm T Sq/ Whitehall/P Sq. Comply with all police instructions, do not give up, do not be beaten, just head back!" the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association wrote on Twitter, despite the warning from police.

Posters were earlier placed all over London calling for the strike, with the intention of “failing London” traffic to stress the importance of licensed taxi drivers.

Some mimicked a WWI recruiting campaign featuring military commander Horatio Kitchener.

"They're killing us off, starving us out," Mick Fitz, a London black taxi driver who has been in the business for years, told Reuters.

 London black cab drivers take part in a protest against a new private taxi service 'Uber', a mobile phone app, on the Mall leading to Buckingham Palace in central London on June 11, 2014. (AFP Photo / Carl Court)

"With their taximeter, their apps that they use, their technology, those are taximeters basically, which by law only we are allowed to use," Fitz said, referring to the 1998 British law reserving the right to use a meter for licensed black taxis.

In response to the mass demonstration, Uber said that it has seen an 850 percent increase in its users from last Wednesday.

Uber also took advantage of the mass strike, using it to promote its service.

“While the taxi protests may seek to bring Europe to a standstill, we’ll be on hand to get our riders from A to B,” the company said, according to Bloomberg.

"Black cabs have been a symbol of London for many decades, known across the world. But symbols, no matter how iconic, cannot be allowed to stand in the way of innovation," said director general of the Institute of Directors, Simon Walker, as quoted by BBC.

London’s licensed taxi drivers were also joined by their French colleagues.

Taxis block roads in Paris

Across Paris, 55,000 professional taxis and 15,000 cabs went on strike on Wednesday, said Nadine Annet, vice president of the FNAT taxi association in France, as quoted by Bloomberg.

Taxis drivers block highway outside Paris, near Roissy on June 11, 2014, as they take part in a demonstration to protest against the growing number of minicabs, known in France as “Voitures de Tourisme avec Chauffeurs” (VTC). (AFP Photo / Fred Dufour)

She added that the city's taxi drivers jammed traffic on major arteries into the city, with about 1,200 Parisian drivers blocking Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports on Wednesday.

Local TV reported that the A1 highway that circles Paris was halted by a 200-kilometer traffic jam.

German taxi drivers take to the streets

Thousands of German taxi drivers in Berlin, Köln, Frankfurt, and Hamburg also took part in the Wednesday strike. They protested against Uber and similar apps such as Blacklane (a German limousine car service) which they believe create unfair competition.

“It has to be regulated. It has to be fair. It cannot go on like this anymore. We have to pay for all the costs and our licenses. They pay for nothing except their cars and petrol,” 64-year-old Siegfried Liebesgesell from Berlin, a taxi driver for 35 years, told the Local.

Taxi drivers protest on June 11, 2014 in Berlin. (AFP Photo / DPA / Joerg Carstensen / Germany out)

Taxi licenses in Europe can ultimately cost up to 200,000 euros (US$270,000) a piece. There are an estimated 7,000 taxi drivers in Berlin, 2000 of which are self employed, Liebesgesell added.

Madrid strike planned for 24 hours

The Spanish capital and major tourist city of Barcelona held similar demonstrations against carpooling apps on Wednesday. Madrid planned the strike to last 24 hours – from 6 a.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday.

The Spanish Ministry of Public Works has warned that companies or individuals offering Uber-type services face fines of up to 6,000 euros ($8115), while users could be fined up to 600 euros ($812).

A taxi preceeds demonstrators holding a banner during a strike action in protest of unliscensed taxi-type-services in Barcelona on June 11, 2014. (AFP Photo / Josep Lago)

Demos against ride-hailing apps were also held in Rome, Lisboa and Brussels.