Paris Taxi Drivers Are Rude

The taxi drivers of Paris have given a Gallic shrug to news that travellers rate them as the rudest in the world. “I’m unpleasant and so what?” said Frédérique Messmer, a cabby in his 50s, as he smoked by his Peugeot in western Paris. Similar responses came from his colleagues after a global survey that for the second year in a row ranked the city’s notoriously sour drivers last for friendliness. There was some consolation: New York’s yellow cab drivers were equal finalists.

The rating, by 1,900 respondents to the site, put London’s black cabs top for service as well as first of the all-round top 10 ranking. Paris, which hosts more tourists than any city in the world, came 10th in the overall ranking for the second year in a row.  Most problems occur when passengers on flights to Paris leave the airport teminals and seek taxi rides into the city.

That suggested that Mayor Bertrand Delanoe is not making much progress in a long campaign to brighten the service of a closed shop profession that has this year already staged three strikes against reforms.

The union of owner-drivers, the Csat, called the ranking unfair and came up with excuses. A handful of surly conducteurs are giving the profession a bad name, said Christian Delomel, head of the Csat. London cabbies could afford to be nice because they had an easy time, he added. “They have an urban toll system. The traffic there moves while the drivers here spend hours in jams. I think they come out of it well,” Mr Delomel told Le Parisien newspaper.

However, to improve service, the Csat is pushing for a tighter licence test, including the requirement for a minimum grasp of English. The drivers’ lack of English has long been one of the main sources of complaint from foreign visitors.

Good French helps passengers understand the abuse to which they are subjected. A Parisian woman yesterday recalled a recent trip with a bad-tempered woman driver. “I looked at my hands and she turned round and snapped at me, ‘you’re not going to cut your nails are you?’”

Other gripes include the near impossibility of hailing a cab rather than going to a rank and the lack of taxis at night. Mayor Delanoe has been trying to remedy that by putting more on the road, but the profession is resisting with the argument that they will lose income and the value of their vehicle licenses. These trade for about €200,00. Paris still has only 15,500 taxis, compared with 25,000 in the 1920s. London, a bigger city, has 80,000, including minicabs. France still still bans those.

Mr Delanoe may not have persuaded drivers to smile, accept competition or drive vehicles painted to look like taxis rather than ordinary cars, but he has just made headway on one point. The cabs are being equipped with red and green roof lights which for the first time enable people to tell whether they are free for hire.