Motorcycle Taxi in Paris – Getting around Presidential Traffic Jams

I had my first ‘motorcycle taxi’ ride last Friday. It turned out to be a classic experience of getting to the airport JIT (just in time). My flight was at 4:15pm and I left my meeting at the MEDA headquarters at 2:30pm. According to the driver, we would arrive within 25 minutes, no sweat.

Motorcycle Taxi service in Paris

My first thought about the Motorcycle-taxi regards the very different experience of getting “into” the motorcycle taxi, this being my first such taxi ride. The first point is that my driver, David, felt the need to shake my hand. A personal touch. The next challenge was the suitcase which was apparently much bigger than expected. However, after some stretching of the veritably industrial elastic bands, the suitcase was cabled on to the back of the bike. Then, with hairnet to boot, I slipped on the second helmet. The final ritual involved the alcoholic gel for the hands before putting on the provided gloves. Only fitting, I thought, before you split your legs and sit behind a total stranger. All aboard, we went off with a relaxed feeling – I was, indeed, very confident that we would make it in time. So confident, in fact, that I decided to make a quick stopover at my home – basically on the way to the Roissy (CDG) airport, some 30 kilometres north of Paris.

Having arrived at our home, I scrambled up and down and was back on the saddle at 2:45pm. A little tight, but we should get to the airport at 3:10pm at the latest assured David, my friendly driver. As it turned out, as we arrived at the first entrance to the péripherique (Paris’ ring road), we found the on-ramp blocked off, causing general mass confusion of honking, a lot of frustrated drivers and a quite unexpected traffic jam. We diverted to the next entrance, not without jumping a few curbs. Same problem. The entrance was again blocked. By the time we arrived at the third entrance, my heart had taken on a noticeably less consistent beat. We asked the policeman, who was nonchalantly shooing us off the on-ramp, how many of the entrances might be closed off. “Presidential Procession” was the surly explanation, accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders.

After the fourth ‘diversion,’ we wiggled and ziggled and finally found a route onto the A1 toward the airport via St Denis. At last, we experienced some free sailing. We arrived at terminal 2A at 3:18pm. Pretty good, I thought, but later than I would have wanted and less than an hour before the international flight was to take off. Catastrophe struck as I found out that the right terminal was actually 2E. Fortunately for me, David was still re-arranging his bike for his next trip. Putting the helmet back on, without hairnet this time, and jamming the suitcase between us, we zipped over to the E terminal, which, if you don’t know CDG, is a good kilometre away. Imagine my horror, when I discovered that the real right terminal was 2F, some 500 metres away by foot. The sprint was on. I arrived at the check-in counter to hear “sorry, sir, the flight is closed for check-in.” To my good fortune – and thanks to the electronic new age – I had pre-checked in and had a boarding pass. The woman accepted my situation (and my C2000 card) and I was able to go through the final formalities to board the plane. Hurray.

Anyway, the motorcycle taxi definitely saved me… I cannot imagine what might have happened had I been in a classic car taxi. It was worth it all the way. Anyone else want to share a Moto-Taxi experience? Zip on over here and tell us.

Life in the Fast Lane and Hooters

Eagles Life in the Fast LaneI would like to share with you with a little thought today.

There used to be a time when I thought it desirable to live life in the fast lane. What does that mean? Well, by my understanding it means living with time whizzing by, memories blurring, names & faces forgotten and years merging into decades. Surely, going to lose your mind… Oops, might have plagiarized that from somewhere (call it my Eagle eye).

Now, for many of us, life in the parking lot seems to be all we canHooters Girls Calendar 2008 handle. Between having to crane your neck (it’s so stiff) around as you reverse in the ever smaller spaces and watching out for the piping hot coffee in your lap, while answering the cell phone and inserting your earpiece and, simultaneously, turning down your music… life in the parking lot is sometimes as fast you might want life to be.

Then again, life in the odd lane might be the more fitting route these days. The search for the rarity and the personality. I came across this charming site, typically Canadian in a way, Life In the Fast And what is quirky in this “Life in the Fast Lane” post is that everyone is walking with heavily laden horses to visiting the Hukuo Waterfalls of the Yellow River in China. And while I’m at it (nice one Deborah), here is a hoot: The new Hooters Calendar 2008. I attach this month’s oogle hooter to ogle.

In terms of riding in the fast lanes in cities, it does seem that the special bus or taxi lane is getting slower every year. As much as the traffic jams get worse, the fast lane slows down too. In large part, that is because there are too many deliveries and odd obstacles in the special lane, not enough police patrolling of the civilian infiltrators and, finally, because the special lane must Happy Easter Chick 2008merge with the plebeian (normal) lanes all too frequently. Enough to say, that life in the fast lane isn’t what it used to be, certainly not what it is cracked up to be and should be fastened onto memory lane, so that we can,–slowly and deliciously–enjoy our every day at the speed we can handle.

If you are needing a mundane definition of the idiom: try here: life in the fast lane.

Now back to my piping hot coffee. Have a great day. Oh yes, and Happy Easter 2008. (Don’t mind the Easter Chick).

Taxi economics in Paris

This is not a Grinch who stole Christmas or a post about Uncle Scrooge, but it does have to do with money (economics) and service…

During the last public transport strike in Paris in November, I avoided as best I could taking a taxi. Aside from the staunch traffic jams and eco-guilt*, I was not keen on padding the taxi driver’s pockets. Instead, I hoofed it as frequently as I managed my timing. Adding the practical (exercise) to the ecological.

One day, I was forced to cab it. Not that it was quicker, but the bags obliged. I happened upon a talkative and, possibly frank, driver. We struck upon the topic of profitable rides. What is a profitable ride for a Parisian taxi driver? By the judge of how many rides I have been refused, I assumed there was an unwritten rule not to take passengers like me, whatever I may look like.

As we may yet enjoy more strikes in Paris in the new year (are you kidding me about the subjunctive?), I recount what I was told about a taxi driver’s profit motive. There are no fast rules as the traffic will vary with great inconsistency. [I did not get to discuss the different fare zones according to time of the week, area of Paris].

For the trip to the main Charles-de-Gaulle Roissy Airport (27km north-east of Paris), the typical fare is 45-50 euro for 35 minutes work–“well worth just heading back into town empty,” said the driver (rather than waiting the 2-3 hour wait at the airport). I can infer that 45 E for 70 minutes (minimum) translates into a good hourly rate (38.6E).

Naturally, as with any trip, the fare and duration depend entirely on the traffic. The driver recounted that intra muros Paris with the strike in full swing meant 30E for a 60-minute fare stuck in traffic. Plus, there is no “rest” (as in need to deal with a client). And there is the added stress of the constant gridlock and unhappy co-drivers.

That said, the economics of the taxi have been steadfastly manipulated. Courtesy of a Vox on-line article entitled, “The price of suspicion,**” I discovered that there used to be 25,000 taxis in Paris…in 1925! I quote from the article: “For fear of competition, those concerned latch on to a Malthusian system (25,000 taxis in Paris in 1925, 15,000 in 2005) – of which we know the result; users can’t find a taxi when they need one, and drivers practically have to bleed to death to get the famous taxi-badge – a clear example of a lose-lose outcome.” Clearly, market supply has been carefully strangled.

From another article, “Paris Capitale Taxis,” I find the statistic that, “…in 2005, each day 15,200 taxis carried more than 350,000 customers, i.e. 190,000 trips per day.” This means that each taxi (the car itself, as many cars are driven by multiple drivers), has 12.5 trips per day on average. If the average ticket (including tips) were about 13E (1 ride to the airport and the remainder at 10E), the daily revenues would be 185E or 55KE over a year containing an arbitrary 300 work days.

I am not in a position to know the costs for the driver (cost of the license currently estimated at around 200KE, fuel, insurance, amortization, etc.), so this is not an economist’s analysis. What I wanted to do was get into the taxi driver’s psyche–his/her top of mind profit motive.

Meanwhile, I still can’t figure out the reason why the counter must be set to begin at 2.10E, yet the minimum fare is 5.60E. Why not just begin at 5.60E and let it sit at that price until such time as the distance warrants the uptick? It just doesn’t make sense to have a metre read 4E at the end of an ultra short (and totally profitable) trip and yet be obliged to pay 5.60E minimum anyway.

In any event, there is talk of change of the regulations…as per this recently published French Journal de Dimanche article “Revolution en vue pour les taxis parisiens” in order to encourage more taxis back into Paris. The JDD article says that there are now 15,600 taxis in Paris. Hopefully, the new year’s resolution will also include making more as well as nicer cab drivers.


*As with many expressions I make up, I think I’m being orginal, but it turns out, as usual, that the term eco-guilt has been broadly used across the Net. I cite a couple that I enjoyed:
Coffee, tea… eco-guilt? A not so complementary view of Virgin Atlantic’s ploy…
The twitch of Eco-guilt… the guilt of enjoying a holiday in a non eco-friendly location such as Dubai

**This article, written by Professors Algan and Cahuc, presents a (very cogent) history from which has growns the current state of affairs in France (worth the read).

Taxi G7 – bande de voyous

Ce matin, passant par la rue Cambon 8è à Paris, j’ai retrouvé la rue bouchée par un camion. La longue queue de voitures indiquait que ça faisait bien des minutes qu’ils attendaient. Plusieurs voitures et taxis se sont mis à claxonner. Il y avait aussi 3 taxis G7 dans la queue. A ma grande surprise, ces 3 taxis étaient vides, avec les chauffeurs en train de bavarder ensemble calmement dans la rue, mais tous avec le signal “A” allumé (occupé). Evidemment, ils étaient sans souci d’attendre. On s’étonne de pourquoi certains taxis réservés par téléphone arrivent avec le compteur élévé. Mais, ce qui agace encore plus c’est l’attitude accompagnante et de savoir que le chauffeur se fait un plaisir de trainer autant. La patience payante? Je prefère le transport en commun ou bien même Vélib.

Queen’s Day in Amsterdam

Queen’s Day is a weekend of extravagance in Amsterdam. Concerts, orange shirts, beers and garbage sprawled across the streets. It is a moment of tremendous frivolity, much aided by the glorious sunny weather on this weekend. On this trip, I was spoiled by two ‘different’ events:
(1) being the very first passenger for my taxi driver (a rather portly, if nervous, Pakistani) who took me from Schiphol airport to my hotel (passing through a very dense and rowdy crowd).
How many times in one’s life is one a taxi driver’s first ever passenger? He was very well intentioned and discrete.
(2) a lucky find. My elegant wrist watch malfunctioned over the weekend so I was quite disappointed about the prospect of having to fix it… when I stepped out of the cab (mentioned above), I looked down and found a brand new Fossil watch. Although not exactly the same calibre as my regular watch, I can only say I felt little remorse in picking it up out of the trash lying on the floor. I would not have been nearly as content, I believe, had my real watch not been on the blinker. Such is the serendipity.

Taxi! What’s up, Doc?

The other day, on Long Island, I was driven to the airport by the chauffeur of a rather nice sedan. With his latino accent, rapper hat (despite the warm weather) and small stature, I must admit I didn’t pay much attention at first. After a few miles, the conversation went beyond the stilted to the interesting and finished in the highly titillating. It turned out that my chauffeur was a prior Olympic competitor (gymnast) for his country (Ecuador) and is currently finalizing his studies to become a neuro-surgeon. Just goes to show you that you must remain open minded at all times… especially in a country where the dream for “a better future” is still a dream in some people’s minds. Anyone else meet anyone else with such a surprising background?

First impressions of Sweden

As is my wont on any first time in a country, I love to jot down the first impressions that hit me… if only to confirm some generalizations and, probably, regurgitate very obvious observations.

  • First suprise, the “noise free” Stockholm (Arlanda) airport, whereby no general announcements are made and people are very respectful of each person’s [aural] space. In the streets, it is considered gauche to laugh out loud (shows signs of being drunken/disorderly). Even kids seemed to be quieter.
  • Going to get a taxi outside at the airport, we found five taxi drivers with their hand up, standing beside their taxi, not uttering a word. You are invited to chose the driver you want (very egalitarian in a certain sense…) as they each represent different companies.
  • In a showing of equality, passengers will frequently sit in the front seat alongside the taxi driver.
  • At the offices, there is generally a basket of fruit to encourage healthy eating.
  • Women. Aside from the 48% of women in the Swedish parliament, and the fact that men take responsibility for half of the household and child-caring chores (you are just as likely to find a man pushing a pram as a woman), women give systematically very firm handshakes (a true pleasure). Naturally, I avow that the Swedish women were attractive.
  • It is most usual for boys to go out for dinner as a group of boys and girls with girls.
  • There is no [commonly used] word for “please” in Swedish.
  • The Swedes like to be punctual (very appreciated as far as I was concerned).
  • A mile in Sweden is 10 kilometers! Had no idea there was another measurement for a mile (in addition to the nautical mile).

At last, aside from learning a few key words and phrases, I was able to talk about what the word “morsan” means…which is how I have affectionately called my mother since my teen years. Morsan is slang Swedish for “mother.”

Parking tickets, fines and towing…mafia.

In Paris, as in most metropolitan centers, parking is at a premium. As we approach the Presidential elections, there is usually a lot of hope, if not rumor, that all traffic violations will be pardoned. This year, it appears that the main presidential hopefuls have declared that there will be no such pardon this time. In a game reminiscent of chicken, as we approach the elections, it seems that more and more people are parking illegally and the wardens are laying out more and more parking tickets. The towing trucks appear in force and uplift full rows of cars with impunity, if not self-righteousness, themselves. I witness this with a mild level of disgust as I suspect the involvement of the mafia. At these times, one will equally as easily find rows of illegally parked cars (often the likes of brightly colored Lamborghini’s, Ferrari’s, etc.) untouched. One has to suspect that the “voituriers” or the car service porters have paid off the police for the cars under their regard. Anyway, you get the feeling that the existing government is trying to raise money… If only the taxi drivers were more agreeable, I’d prefer to take them when going out during the evenings than deal with the parking hassles…

Taxis in Paris

Can’t think of an industry that does less to please its clients than Parisian taxis. The list of challenges is long: bad attitudes, no responsibility (central authority metes out no punishment), cost, unavailability… The thing that got me so riled up this morning was the behavior of a taxi driver that I flagged down. He pulled over, but by the time I had walked over (10 meters), he waved me off saying that he was now “taken.” His “busy” light was indeed now on… and he just sat there without looking at me again. What happened is certainly nothing new in Paris. But the notion roiled me that he was just sitting there racking up a bill for some unknowing customer who had called in a reservation. He was just happy to avoid taking a random pickup (part of the job I say). And it galls me to see the large number of “busy” taxis you can find driving round and round the block, waiting for a pickup so that the meter reads the maximum amount allowable (if they follow the law that is). I am very much in favor of liberalizing the taxi business in France: buy back all the medallions and allow a free market approach (lower unemployment, greater competition… all those good things!). That said, they are doing their job of obliging people to take public transportation. Good for reducing pollution, although not all the stress. We still have metro lines that employ drivers that can still go on strike…