Train and taxi strikes hit travel

More than 300km of traffic jams reported in Ile-de-France shortly after 8am as commuters struggle to get to work

COMMUTERS in France were facing a double-whammy of travel misery today with rail unions staging a 24-hour walkout in a dispute over rail reform and taxi drivers protesting against the rise of minicabs.

With rail services badly hit across the country, train operator SNCF advised passengers to put off their travel if possible, and for those travelling in by road to consider car-pooling.

But BFMTV reported that, shortly after 8am today, there were 300km of traffic jams on roads in the Ile-de-France, more than twice normal levels.

Half an hour later, the jams had extended an additional 15km, the broadcaster said.

And the situation is unlikely to improve, with taxi drivers in Paris staging a go-slow as part of a Europe-wide protest against the "unfair competition" they face from minicab firms, such as Parisien VTC (voitures de tourisme avec chauffeurs) company Uber.

According to Le Figaro, tens of thousands of taxi drivers will mobilise in many European cities - as well as Paris, similar protests are set to take place in London, Rome and Berlin. In France, the newspaper said, taxis will block roads around train stations and airports, including Marseille, Orly, Lyon, Nice and Aix-en-Provence.

Maxi companies, such Taxis G7 or Taxis Bleus, said they would take no bookings today.

In a statement on its website, Taxis Bleus said: "Our service will be greatly degraded. Please note that we can not book vehicles in advance.”

Even taxi drivers not taking part in the protest have decided not to get behind the wheel today, believing conditions on the roads to be "impossible", it has been reported.

As reported, the rail unions began their “extendable” strike at 7pm yesterday.

The train operator has warned that southeast France will be particularly badly hit, with just one TGV in three running. Only one out of two TGVs will operate in the north and east of the country.

Intercity services have been cut by two-thirds; only one in three TER and Transilien services are running; and RER B, C, D, and E services in Paris are also at a third capacity today,

The strike takes place a week before France's lower house examines the proposed railway reforms aiming to tackle the sector’s soaring debt. Unions, however, claim the reforms do not go far enough.

Transport secretary Frédéric Cuvillier, told Jean-Jacques Bourdin on RMC this morning that he was ready to meet the SNCF strikers "this evening, at night, all day tomorrow.

"I want them [the strikers] to take the time to explain why they should be partners. They must be on board the reform, because it is essential to save the public rail service."

Photo: Poom