Belgium Rules Against Uber: Commuters Losing the Ride

Following a court decision Wednesday that extends a 2015 order banning its p2p UberPop service to also cover professional drivers providing its ride-hailing service, Uber will cease operating in most of Belgium on Thursday. The country’s Supreme Court is studying the detail of the decision to decide whether to appeal it.

The decision was also influenced by a six-month suspension of Uber’s service in Brussels last month, which the company called “exceptional and unprecedented,” claiming it was only implementing the measure to protest the lack of reform of regulations that ban drivers from using cellphones.

Following this week’s decision by the Brussels Appeal Court, private hire vehicle drivers have also been blocking a major tunnel in the Belgian capital. In an interview published on Friday regarding the impending closure, country head Laurent Slits again denounced the Belgian government for not bringing about change it has been demanding, stating: “This decision was made based on outdated regulations written in a time before smartphones, which the government has promised and failed to reform for the last seven years.”

Uber’s shutdown will not apply to a small number of drivers who are licensed in the Flemish region of Belgium, and will thus be allowed to use the app. nOnly drivers with Brussels licences will be impacted by the Appeal Court decision.

The technology firm is “deeply concerned” about the 2,000 license holders for LVC cars (rental car with driver’s licenses) who will no longer be able to profit from Uber’s platform starting on Friday, according to the statement.

Uber has already argued that the decision is “wrong” and will “cause significant economic harm.” It claims, for example, that if Uber loses its license to operate in Belgium under these conditions, it would lose 2,000 jobs. However, since Uber does not hire drivers directly in Belgium but rather classifies them as independent contractors, it cannot argue that 2,000 ‘jobs’ are about to be lost.

“We urge the government to move quickly to reform the taxi and LVC sector once and for all so that drivers can continue working to provide for their families,” Slits added.

In March, the local government of Brussels banned Uber drivers from accepting passengers via cellphones and geolocation. Since then, Uber drivers in the city have been operating in a grey area — one that might result in fines if they continue to use the app. However, according to the company, authorities have given conflicting instructions to drivers, with some telling them — privately – that they are free to drive.

The Belgian government’s decision to suspend Uber’s license has been criticized by the taxi industry. The firm said the order was “premature” and that it had indicated a reform of the legislation before the summer. In September, Belgium announced a draft bill to alter the rules, according on Reuters. However, Uber claims that as a whole, the sector has not seen the text yet. According to an Uber spokesperson, however, this is “wrong.”

Uber claimed there is broad support for reform in Belgium, not only from its LVC drivers who work with customers through its platform but also from traditional taxi companies. However, Brussels local taxi businesses have their own proposals for reform, and they have said that they are interested in recruiting Uber drivers to address a shortage of taxi drivers.

A sector representative told TaxiPro recently that there is a shortage of 600+ taxi drivers in London, which may be filled by Uber drivers with LVCs.

“The big advantage is that we offer a solution to these Uber drivers,” Sam Bouchal told the publication in September [translated to English via Google Translate], saying that the Uber drivers could be offered permanent contracts, and adding: “We’re getting them out of illegality.”

Bouchal, meanwhile, said the taxi industry is concerned about causing “a social massacre.”

Concerns about gig work conditions have long simmered across Europe, prompting numerous legal challenges — and a 2017 decision by Europe’s highest court that Uber is a transportation business, thus cannot avoid local taxi rules.

In the United Kingdom, Uber was also forced to recognize drivers as workers last month after failing to overturn a string of employment victories at the country’s Supreme Court. nHowever, in Belgium – a key power center for the European Commission – the ride-hailing giant is continuing to push for favorable legislation changes to help its platform business run more smoothly.

The EU executive has said it wants to support the development of urban transport systems that are “safe, accessible, inclusive, affordable, smart, resilient and emission-free,” according to documents disclosed by Uber. The Commission is also seeking comments on ride-hailing rules in the bloc’s single market through an upcoming urban mobility framework — which the EU executive has said it wants to support the development of urban transport systems that are “safe, accessible, inclusive, affordable, smart , resilient and emission-free.”

Uber wants the European Union to pass legislation that would allow it to ignore local authority demands, setting a pan-European enabling framework for ride-hailing services, which would allow it to disregard local rules.

The Commission, on the other hand, has stated that it wants the urban mobility framework to address “transport pollution and congestion” — so it’s unclear how removing regulatory barriers to ride hailing would help with this.

Cars are the least energy-efficient way to move people about dense cities, owing to their immense area and limited capacity. Given how much space they take up and how few individuals they can transport, compared to a train, bus, bicycle, scooting, walking, etc., cars are the most inefficient mode of transportation. The variety of accessible automobile choices has amplified as a result of micromobility – thus the arguments in favor of automobiles in metropolises are becoming fewer by the day.

From a worldwide, urban planning perspective, the coronavirus pandemic has prompted numerous European cities to pay more attention to modifying public space into more pedestrian-friendly and locally focused. Micromobility has also allowed for policies that intentionally underplay the automobile. Simply said, cleaner air and brighter local streets (and school bike trains) are difficult to ignore.

Brussels has lagged behind in this area, but the city has taken steps to reduce the number of vehicles on its notoriously congested, pollution-choked roads in recent years. As a consequence, Belgium’s government may well have motivation to examine ride-hailing changes.

Simultaneously, the European Commission has been developing another legislation proposal to enhance conditions for platform workers across the continent, addressing rising levels of concern about factors such as lack of job security and low wages.

Uber, on the other hand, has been working hard to influence EU lawmakers in its favor—and it’s been accused of attempting to replicate its past success in California by lobbying for lower platform worker requirements.