[Hpn] Panhandlers chump-changed as French armored truck drivers strike FWD

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sat, 20 May 2000 15:02:24 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  Reuters / Friday May 19


By Crispian Balmer

PARIS (Reuters) - A strike by armored van security guards,
now in its 11th day, is turning France into a cashless society.

Sales are down in small shops, waiters are losing out on
their usual tips and beggars are deprived of the few coins they
live off.

With the normal flow of cash between banks and shops cut
off, the small change and banknotes normally used for everyday
purchases are becoming ever harder to find. Credit cards and
checks are often the only way to pay for purchases.

French state railways and the Paris metro system announced
on Friday they would accept checks as low as five francs (68
U.S. cents) -- even less than the eight-franc metro ticket.

The guards who transport cash between banks and shops to
feed automated teller machines (ATMs) and collect shop earnings
went on strike on May 9 for more risk money following a series
of brutal hold-ups, some with bazookas and automatic weapons.

The French government appointed a mediator for the dispute
earlier this week after negotiations between unions and bosses
broke down. But despite his intervention, no deal appeared
forthcoming and more talks are expected at the weekend.

``Business for us is down by at least 50 percent. It's a
disaster,'' said Jean-Paul, an assistant at the Soguisa
fishmongers in Paris' bustling Rue Montorgueil.

``Customers feel embarrassed about buying a fish for 15
francs ($2.00) with their credit cards. They are going to
supermarkets and doing all their shopping there,'' he said.

Debit cards with ``smart chips'' are widely used in France,
but normally only for purchases of 100 francs and up. Many
shops had to slash the threshold for credit card payments when
the supply of small change and notes dried up.

``The trouble is we have to pay commission on the credit
card sales so this is costing us,'' said Gregory Bernard, owner
of the An II bar on the lively Rue Faubourg du Temple.

``We have run out of 50 franc notes and everyone brings in
big notes wanting change which we haven't got,'' he said. In
desperation he went to a branch of the Bank of France but even
they had run out of 10 franc coins.

A waitress at a bar across the street said she was starting
to feel the pinch. ``Hardly anyone is leaving us tips any more.
Everyone seems to be holding onto their coins,'' said Diane.

At the bottom of the money chain, Paris' homeless beggars
were also struggling. ``I know you haven't got much money on
you, but please give me whatever you can spare,'' said one young
man travelling the metro in search of handouts.

Many people appeared to be hoarding what is left of their
cash for emergencies, while others tramp the streets trying to
find a cash dispenser that works. Some banks reported that up to
80 percent of their ATMs were now empty.

``When you see a line you join it in the hope the machine is
still giving out money,'' said Kay Rolland, publisher of Where
magazine in Paris. ``You get a panicky feeling that you can't
get hold of your own money.''

Susanne Baille, who runs a newspaper kiosk on Paris' Place
de la Republique, said she had started offering her regular
clients credit. ``Some people want to pay for papers with
checks, but I say no. This is getting silly.''


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