'Uber' Is a Dirty Word in France; Taxi Strike Disrupts Cannes Lions
On Thursday at this year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the cocktail-party chatter was dominated by the French taxi strike -- with some variation on the question "How the hell can we get out of here?" being asked by many attendees.
Background: French taxi drivers are blisteringly angry that Uber is disrupting their business, so they planned their own rather theatrical disruption: a day of protests, starting Thursday morning, that not only idled taxis nationwide, but provided camera-ready images of blocked roads, burning tires and smashed car windows. Rocker Courtney Love, who was visiting Paris, tweeted about an attack on her Uber ride: "they've ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage. they're beating the cars with metal bats. this is France?? I'm safer in Baghdad." (She later updated: "Paid some guys on motorcycles to sneak us out, got chased by a mob of taxi drivers who threw rocks, passed two police and they did nothing").
In Cannes, where most festival panels, parties and hotels are in walking distance of each other, the issue wasn't getting around during the event, but what to do post-Cannes.
Typically, thousands of attendees arrive at the festival via taxi after landing at the nearby airport in Nice, but as word spread of cancelled flights and (somewhat exaggerated) "Max Mad"-esque scenes of mayhem at Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur, sunbaked adlanders scrambled to make alternate travel arrangements. One buzzy exit strategy: using UberCopter, an option opportunistically added to the Uber app; initially priced at 160 Euros ($179) for a Cannes-to-Nice trip, high demand briefly drove surge pricing of over 800 Euros -- and then, most of the time, a persistent "No Helicopter Available Now" message. (Uber drivers, judging from the lack of available black cars and vans on the app, quietly abandoned French roads for fear of being targeted.)
At one high-profile event -- the invite-only Droga5 Thursday-night dinner party at Michelin-starred restaurant La Village Archange in Le Cannet, two miles north of the Cannes beach, the strike prompted some incongruous scenes.
To get to the party, many guests piled into a series of private vans, organized by Droga, that departed around 6 p.m. from the InterContinental Carlton Cannes. But guests looking to leave the fancy dinner, once it finally wrapped up near midnight, found that the vans had been replaced by a single full-size coach bus, which was parked a long walk from the restaurant. And so a couple dozen adland grandees in evening finery and high heels drunkenly followed a squat French bus driver down a hill to board the bus.
But the gregarious driver, who spoke not a lick of English, then held the partygoers captive for at least half an hour, apparently refusing to budge until more of the seats were filled. He didn't seem to be aware that some of the A-list party attendees -- including 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch, Vice CEO Shane Smith, supermodel/TV host Chrissy Teigen, producer Brian Grazer and HBO CEO Richard Plepler -- had their own private cars and drivers, and thus had no need for a déclassé bus ride.
Though the strike wrapped up by Friday morning, the day's events were still disrupted, with many panel participants having been unable to get into Cannes (or having bailed out of Cannes early to avoid the strike). And some adland Cannesgoers emerged with amusing war stories, including Rattling Stick Director/Co-founder Ringan Ledwidge and company Managing Director Katie Keith, who managed their way around the strike by standing in the middle of the street and flagging down a random, passing car.
In a development that was uncannily reminiscent of a Stella Artois ad Ledwidge directed a few years ago, the driver was a delivery man transporting case upon case of eggs. But the pair managed to squeeze themselves in alongside the precious cargo and hitch a ride to Cannes from the airport. For a mere 80 Euros.