04.23.13 6:15 PM ET
The Taxi Service We Deserve
A year ago, I wrote a CNN column about the Paris taxi shortage and what it says about the European job crisis.
Prolonged mass unemployment in Europe has triggered a global debate about the euro currency, and rightly so. Yet it's also true that every day, people in Europe are denied work by dumb laws that prevent willing customers from hiring them.
Soon afterward, I received an email from Dave Ashton, an American living in Paris who had launched a company called Snapcar, a limo service ordered by smartphone application, very like the Uber service we know in the US. Dave urged me to try his service when next in Paris.
My original article concerned over-regulation, but I'm not immune to the fascination of #problemsofthe1%. I happened to be in Paris last weekend and was able to give Snapcar a try - and it was a transforming experience. Instead of standing in the rain waving arms - then sitting in a car suffering the driver's musical choices - we pressed a button and consistently within 10 minutes found ourselves inside a comfortable car driven by a non-radio-playing driver.
(Here's the 2012 experience, for comparison's sake:)
The taxi rocked to the pounding sounds of French rap music.
My wife turned to our hostess. "Can you ask him to turn it down?"
The hostess waved her hands nervously. "No, it will only offend him." She explained: The massive Paris taxi shortage had transformed the city's cab drivers into so many motorized Soup Nazis: "My cab, my music; if you don't like it -- walk."
Back in 1937, Paris capped the number of taxi permits at 14,000. Now, 75 years later, a bigger and vastly richer Paris receives some 27 million tourist visits per year -- and the number of cabs has edged up less than 14%, to 15,900. Result: In wind and rain and baking sun, Parisians must stand in long lines at taxi stands for cabs that never come.
The one warning for Americans in Paris: you will need a working smart phone not only to order the car, but to confirm that it is arriving.
Even better news, Snapcar offers for 10 euros a service that our Uber does not: prescheduled pickup. Thanks, Dave, for reaching out to me and bringing this improvement into my life.