How to get a cab in Paris ? It sounds like a Daftpunk hit : Get lucky !!!
« Joe le Taxi », the famous song by French singer and ex-wife of Johnny Deep, Vanessa Paradis describes an Edenic image of the Parisian taxi driver : « Connait toutes les rues par coeur
Tous les p'tits bars
Tous les coins noirs
Et la Seine
Et ses ponts qui brillent »
Joe, the taxi drivers knows all the streets by heart, all the bars, all the dark corners, the river Seine and the shiny bridges »
Third type encounter
Sometimes you are a lucky devil and you make that third type of encounter : a nice clever guy who likes his freedom and is happy to tell you about Paris. Basically he is a second generation immigrant or (and) has been on the dole, he changed his job to feed his family and promote next generation. He has a hard life but genuinely spends the whole trip trying to persuade you (and himself certainly), it is worth it. Sometimes you want to cry, and comparing his life to yours. You get out of his car full of beans, and give him a big tip.
Sometimes, you are even luckier, by chance, the driver speaks some English, is well trained and educated « chauffeur de grande remise » working for the club affaire (the elite club) of one the 2 main business companies (Taxi bleu or G7), and picks you up because he has some free time to kill. He knows exactly where you are going, the best way, he has a few newspapers for you at the back and you can pay with your visa card.
Most of the time the French taxi driver is grumpy. Sometimes he has just smoked and thinks because he opened the window you don’t smell the cold tobacco stench. Sometimes he has a dog on the front seat and worse, it may be a rainy day. More rarely the driver is a woman and she does not help you to carry your luggage. He is usually talking noisily to his friend over the phone, and listening to the football match, or listening to very loud radio and will look down on you if you request lowering the volume.
Beware of Wagner
Sometimes, when entering the car of the taxi driver, you feel relieved. He is listening to classical music… You should be cautious, as in American movies, it is often the bad guy who listens to classical music. It is not always Wagner and a prelude to the invasion of Poland, and you are listening to « Radio Notre Dame », the extreme right radio. You do not always realise it until the driver starts small talk with you, the weather, the French – he is proud to be French – what else ? - So far so good… But suddenly without you noticing he elaborates some causal talk and theory about Romanians, the « Roms ».
If you want to know how deep he can go, you just need to nod to punctuate the conversation by « vraiment » (really ??) or « comme c’est intéressant» (how interesting !) then unless you wear some distinctive religious sign he can spot, he will easily reach the slippery Godwin’s lawand quite naturally by extension you get to… the Jews (or) and to the Muslims… It may be very insidious saying that « one of them it is ok, but two many of them… » quoting former Sarkozy minister of Interior, Brice Hortefeux… You’d better not generate a political discussion.
Not all Paris taxi drivers are xenophobic, most of them are just disagreable and unprofessional.
Licence to drive
Unlike the English cab drivers, who, like « Joe le taxi » knows the street by heart and studied for 3 years before getting a licence, and are, the icing on the cake, very polite, on the contrary, the French taxi driver is not always very nice. He bought his licence plates for 250.000 euros in Paris, which he borrowed and has to repay and will resell when he retires ; he is indebted and loathes you for depending on you. He knows a few streets and though it is stated on a note behind his seat « si vous avez un itinéraire préféré, indiquez le au chauffeur » ( if you prefer to use a certain way tell, the driver ), he hates you if your brains work better than his GPS, when he uses one.
In and out
You are still lucky, because, at last, but not least, you are IN a cab heading smoothly to you destination.
Most of the time, you are OUT of the Cab, waiting for Godot… queueing at the taxi station where a French person pretends to be pregnant, old, sick or all three at the same time. Sometimes you are very unlucky, as it happened to me a few years ago when I was visibly awaiting my twins, you are really pregnant, the taxi driver doesn’t want you on board because you might give birth in the car…
To make a long story short, instead of being trainspotting you are « cab spotting » You see cabs going back and forth and you do not know if they are available or taken… because the light is hardly readable. The new taxis put now a green light when they are available and a red when they are not.
When they all will use these colour code, it will be even more depressing to see that they all wear a red light whenever you REALLY need a taxi, when the metro is crowded in the morning or when it is past midnight (10 o’clock in the morning is a very bad timing too), you won’t find a cab… Unless you registered with the « club affair » by G7 or Taxi bleu, paying a 2000 euros per year or using your platinium card concierge service. Too bad if you cannot afford that.
There are fewer taxi drivers in Paris than in London, 3 for a 1000 inhabitants in Paris against to 11 in London according to Le nouvel Observateur. The other reason why they are so difficult to find is that the 18000 cars of the City of light prefer to wait at the airport talking with their friends and where they have the guaranty of making more money driving you from the airport to Paris, than driving at random to find a client. What can also happen is that when, at last, you have secured a taxi, the driver refuses to take you, pretending he has finished his day, because your trip is not profitable enough. It is perfectly illegal, but they do not care…
So booking your taxi with the two major companies, Taxi bleu or Taxi G7, is highly recommended. Until recently they benefited from a total monopoly, preventing the creation of other companies. But given the shortage, the government authorized 2000 private taxis in Paris as « voiture de tourisme avec chauffeur » and they can register for only a few hundred euros.
The normal taxi drivers are furious : who is going to buy back their Euro 250.000 license when they retire when the private taxi need only a few hundred euros to register ? Unless a solution is found for those professionals, the government is caught in a catch 22 situation. Allowing free market could potentially create up to 50.000 jobs ( If Paris reached London proportion of car per inhabitant) but could paralyse the country with a strike of the taxi drivers. Their lobby is so strong that it succeeded in imposing a 15 mn delay on the new private taxis before they can take you. So you cannot hail the private cab chauffeur in the street. But you can book it on the net.
How does it work ?
You have to register with « Snap car », leCab, « Club chauffeur », les « voitures Jaunes » or the most upper class, the American cab company « Uber », now existing in 35 countries. The chauffeur are smart, polite, well educated, they offer wifi, the use of Ipad or to recharge your phone batteries.
You can book them from your smartphone. The application geolocalise you directly, you indicate where you want to go, and you get a message telling you how much it is going to cost. You then just need to accept the cost estimation and wait for your taxi ; you get the name of the taxi driver, his car plates. You will not pay the chauffeur directly, but will receive an invoice through mail that will be directly taken from your bank account.
These taxi are 20% more costly than a cab you hail in the street, but not more than a taxi you book by Taxi G7 or Taxi bleu… And it won’t cost you more because there is a traffic jam…
But official Paris taxi drivers are an experience one should not miss like visiting the Eiffel Tower, or Le Louvre, they give you the real pulse of Paris.
If you traveled to Paris, you certainly have stories about taxi drivers you might want to share with me…
 10-15-2013, by Dominique Nora, Voitures avec chauffeur : pourquoi le lobby des taxis a gagné, in « le Nouvel Observateur »