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Belgian minister set to legalise Uber

After waffling on, it's about to do something ‘inherently sensible’

After Uber’s woes in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain, Belgium looks set to overturn its existing ban on the (taxi and/or tech) service and bring it within legal regulation.

Brussels' mobility minister Pascal Smet has set out a plan to regularise the service, which is still technically illegal in Belgium despite the widespread popularity of the UberPop ride-sharing app, which connects travellers with drivers who are not regulated taxi drivers.

Smet’s plan — which would overhaul current normal taxi rules from 2016 — has plenty of political support. Sources from liberal party Mouvement Réformateur told El Reg they would back the Flemish socialists' move and had long supported it.

Brussels has about 700 Uber drivers, some of whom have been the victims of violent attacks from traditional taxi drivers who see them as a threat.

According to insiders familiar with Smet’s scheme, Uber drivers would be liable for tax on their earnings but would be free to operate so long as it was not their main job.

Gorik van Holen, spokesman for the Brussels transport ministry, told El Reg that “the plan is to establish a clear legal framework for Uber with strict conditions similar to those under which the classical taxi sector operates".

Transport blogger Jon Worth said: “The compromise here strikes me as inherently sensible. The official taxis will be to a certain extent sorted out (they will have to accept credit cards for example), and they will be the only ones allowed to use taxi ranks, taxi lanes, and to be flagged down on the street. Whether you like or loathe Uber as a firm, laws to protect the old business model of taxi firms [are] not the solution here.”

Former Belgian prime minister and MEP Guy Verhofstadt also weighed into the debate this week.

“All too often, our outdated laws provide barriers to new and exciting homegrown services. And existing service providers feel threatened, resulting, for example, in a number of physical assaults on UberPop drivers by taxi drivers in Brussels and Amsterdam. We need to prepare for [the next wave of digitisation] not by slamming on the brakes, but by embracing change,” he said.

Earlier this month Uber filed official complaints with the European Commission against France and Spain, where its ride-sharing service is banned.

Several departments in the Commission are now working together in examining the complaints as they struggle to decide whether Uber is a tech or transport company.

Taxi service regulation is left to member states to work out, not the usual Brussels bureaucrats. ®

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