Brussels taxi drivers have threatened to bring the city to a standstill if the authorities don’t start arresting Uber drivers.
In a vote on Thursday night the GTL taxi union gave the government until September 1 to haul the ride-share app drivers into jail or face Paris-style turmoil. In June, taxi drivers in the French capital blocked roads and attacked Uber vehicles, causing widespread disruption.
But the Belgian authorities’ attitude to Uber is miles apart from France’s. In France, new laws directly target Uber by making it illegal to show the real-time position of available cars on the smartphone app. In Brussels, Mobility Minister Pascal Smet set out a plan to regularise the service earlier this year.
Smet’s scheme would make Brussels' 700 or so Uber drivers liable for tax on their earnings, but would allow them freedom to work for UberPop so long as it was not their main job. On Friday, Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said that traditional taxi services needed shaking up. There are only two taxi firms in Brussels and De Croo believes a little more competition will ultimately improve things for consumers.
An Uber spokesperson told El Reg: “Uber is all about keeping Brussels moving – connecting people to safe, reliable and affordable transport at the tap of a button. We’re proud to bring more choice, for riders and our driver-partners alike, to one of the most congested cities in Europe. These threats, caused by a small proportion of taxi drivers, only underline why people are increasingly choosing alternatives like Uber.”
Currently, Uber only operates UberPop in Brussels, but plans to introduce the more expensive UberX service in coming months, perhaps in a bid to woo EU bureaucrats in the the city.
Earlier this year, Uber filed official complaints with the European Commission against France and Spain. Several departments in the Commission are involved in trying to work out whether to treat Uber as a tech company or a transport one. In the meantime, the Commish has written to Spain to demand the authorities there explain themselves over their treatment of Uber.
Although taxi service regulation is left to member states to work out, Brussels can investigate any anti-competitive national rules and the tide may be turning in Uber’s favour.
Even France – which has been extremely hostile to the services – issued an announcement acknowledging the need for change.
“The Ministries of Economy and Transport will engage very quickly in consultation on the economic balance that will promote development of the sector by bringing together all stakeholders,” said the Home Affairs Ministry. ®