At airport departures, underground taxis wait for tourists

With three months to go before the Olympic Games, the problem of unlicensed taxis is one of the main challenges facing the millions of spectators who will be travelling to Paris. Despite increased signage and warnings about these unlicensed drivers, who may charge exorbitant fares, the phenomenon persists, as does the cat-and-mouse game with the police.

"We pose as passengers to identify anyone who doesn't fit in. Nobody waits 5 or 6 hours at an airport," 47-year-old Captain Patrice Desbleds told AFP. A team of police officers watches unlicensed taxi drivers on a monitor in their offices at Orly airport. "This one knows my face by heart," says one officer, pointing to a person.

In the middle of the jam of vehicles trying to drop off passengers in the departure area, for example, the officers suddenly make their way to a van with tinted windows and a Czech licence plate.

Wearing fluorescent orange police armbands, the officers force the van to stop. It does not have the markings of a taxi or private hire vehicle. After inspecting the driver, they find out he is a Georgian citizen without a license, nor a driving permit or insurance for the vehicle. Inside, British clients panic upon seeing the police.

The driver was supposed to charge 140 euros ($150) for the 50-kilometre trip between Disneyland and Orly. The price was on the high side compared to what legitimate transporters usually charge. As the tourists hurry with their suitcases on wheels to the counter of the airline, a policewoman follows them in order to take down their statements on a piece of paper.

After checking their documents, the officers arrest the driver. They take the resigned man to the police station in an unmarked police car. Fines usually range from €800 to €1,500 euros ($855 to $1,600), but can escalate to court appearances.

Lately, cracking down on illegal transport has resulted in about fifty arrests a month, according to the police. The Passenger Transport Control Unit, as it is officially known, was established in 1938. It employs around 90 police officers.

During the Olympic Games, in addition to their presence at railway stations and airports, these officers will also be on duty at the Olympic venues. "We will keep the experience of this unit (...) we have arrangements in place, we are in the process of adapting to the event," said Captain Desbleds.