Europe's taxi drivers go for gridlock in London, Paris and other capitals in protest at recent industry changes - including the car service app, Uber, which, they say, is threatening their livelihood. Joanna Partridge reports.
REPORTER: They're known for being talkative, but this time they let their actions speak louder. Black cab drivers brought parts of central London to a standstill. They were even more opinionated than usual - over U.S. car service firm Uber.
IAN PARSONS, BLACK CAB DRIVER: "If you've spent £40,000 to get a London cab, then somebody just at the click of the fingers can just have this little smartphone device and just drive any vehicle."
REPORTER: Part of the taxi drivers' protest centres around the meter. Only London's iconic black cabs are allowed to have one, and they're subject to Transport for London regulations. They say that Uber's smartphone app works in much the same way. Cabbies are calling for a level playing field. Steve McNamara is General Secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association.
STEVE MCNAMARA: "They tell us what vehicles to drive, what to charge, they make us, you know we have to wear a badge, the hours, all of the regulations that we have to go through, and they're just saying to Uber you can do what you want."
REPORTER: Uber passengers book a car using the app - a driver nearby can accept the journey. The app uses satellite navigation to work out the distance and calculate the fare. Jo Bertram is UK and Ireland General Manager for Uber - she says their low cost option is between 30% and 50% cheaper than a black cab.
JO BERTRAM: "We're bringing competition in an industry that hasn't been disrupted for decades. We believe that competition is good, it makes everyone up their game in terms of quality and service levels."
REPORTER: Cabbies are also angry that Uber's European headquarters is in the Netherlands, and fares are booked through a Dutch firm. They say this helps it reduce its UK tax bill.
JO BERTRAM: "Uber is paying all of the taxes that are due, it's compliant with the tax legislation in every market in which it operates."
REPORTER: Taxi drivers in some of Europe's other key cities like Paris, Milan and Berlin also took action. There have been previously been demonstrations in the United States. Uber's backed by investors like Goldman Sachs and Google. Only four years after launch, it's just been valued at $18 billion - seen as paving the way for a stock market flotation. Uber chose strike day to announce they're opening up their app to include black cabs. And they say the cabbies' protest has ironically brought them a lot of publicity. They experienced a 850% increase in customers signing up compared with the same day a week earlier.
A cab is a taxi. Cabbie is an informal word for a taxi driver.
A level playing field is a situation that is fair for all the people involved. This from The Phrase Finder:
This phrase clearly alludes to the requirement for fairness in games which are played from end to end and where a slope would give one team and advantage, e.g. football. The figurative use of the phrase isn't especially old and the first record I can find of it is from the Tyrone Daily Herald, January 1977:
"Our philosophy is that we have no problem competing with the mutual savings banks if they start from the level playing field."