Recently, the public car transport industry in France has evolved, particularly with the appearance of a new means of transportation, named VTC (literally “tourism vehicle with driver”), where we find the controversial name, Uber. This new service has changed the rules of the system regulating public transport by car, which traditionally was the exclusive domain of taxis.

The law voted on October 2014 in France, called the Thevenoud law, is very clear on one essential aspect: only taxis are allowed to prospect clients directly off the street. VTC services in most cases have been declared legal, as long as they abide by certain regulations, including applying a mandatory number of hours of test driving for its drivers, vehicle inspections and the obligation to return to a home base between missions. For those reasons, the UberPop P2P service was dismantled, as no authority regulated the competence of the drivers, nor the vehicle standards.

There are 3 types of services available: taxis, VTC services, such as Uber’s, for immediate departure, and VTC services that are booked for set periods of time.

The positive aspects of VTC services are multiple: reactivity through modern means of communications led by smart phones, availability, different classes of vehicles starting from mid-market up to the most upscale vehicles, good customer service, reasonable fees, and convenient payment methods such as through the smart phone application, or through the VTC’s website. When they are not paid in advance through applications and websites, VTC vehicles often have a credit card processing device, which most taxis still do not have, despite the fact that they are legal.

The rates of most standard VTC companies depend not only on the length of the ride and more on the availability of drivers versus current demand in the sector. Rates are decided by the head office and transmitted to the driver, so the client knows in advance how much he will be paying.

However, when it comes to finding a car when you are in the street and minutes are precious to get to an appointment, taxis may still be the best type of service. Most taxi companies have phone centers which give you basically the same type of information as the ones you could find on a Uber smart phone application, and some taxi companies now present a certain number of features to compete with these new types of transport services: the possibility to share the ride, business class services with upscale vehicles and absolute priority over other regular customers, and access for the physically handicapped. Also, the variety of vehicles available is often very interesting.

The taxi industry in France has consistently asked the government to improve taxi status: to operate a taxi, the owner must spend more than 200,000 € in major cities to obtain a license and registration number. The investment was normally recuperated upon retirement by selling the license to another owner. However the increasing VTC competition has diminished taxi income, and there is a gigantic discrepancy between the cost of licenses for VTC drivers and taxis, which the government does not know how to resolve. VTC licenses can be bought for only about 100 € ….

Tourists arriving in Paris can therefore use either of these types of transport. Be aware, however, that VTC rates can change on an hourly basis. Most price comparisons will show that taxis and VTCs have pretty much the same fees, with higher costs for VTCs during rush hours and lower costs at other times. A case by case situation….

D.A