Uber ride-sharing service hit by Brussels court ban

A Brussels court has ordered Uber to stop operating its UberPOP ride-sharing service in Brussels, local media report

A Brussels court has banned Uber from operating its ride hailing service in the city because its drivers don't have a taxi license, local media reported Tuesday. If it flouts the ban, Uber must pay a penalty of €10,000 (US$13,800) per violation.

Uber launched its ride sharing service UberPop in Brussels in February, allowing users to book a ride from their smartphone for a fare of €0.35 per minute and €0.80 per kilometer, with a minimum fare of €4, according to Uber's site. The fares are about a fifth less than typical Brussels taxi fares. The drivers are independent individuals that have held a valid drivers license for at least three years and that were vetted by the company.

Brussels' Minister of Public Works and Transport, Brigitte Grouwels, and a number of Brussels taxi companies accused Uber of violating taxi regulations, according to a report by local newspaper De Tijd.

"We have absolutely nothing against an application like Uber. On the contrary, we would even want to integrate them into the traditional taxi sector," said Grouwels' spokesman on Tuesday.

"However, if you offer paid transport services you should abide by the rules of the sector, otherwise there is unfair competition," he said. That means Uber should pay taxes while its Uber drivers should have taxi licenses as well as the proper insurance to cover drivers and passengers, he said.

Brussels taxi company Taxis Verts was the first to file a legal complaint against Uber, complaining that Uber's fares were undercutting taxis by about 20 percent. The Brussels Commercial Court ruled in favor of the taxi company last week, according to the newspaper. The court banned Uber from operating its service for unfair business practises and because its drivers don't have the proper licenses to operate a taxi, it said.

Neither Uber, Taxis Verts nor the court immediately replied to requests for comment.

However, Uber has had several discussions with both Grouwels and the Director of the Brussels Mobility Administration to discuss its intentions to enter the Brussels market, Susanne Stulemeijer, Uber's head of communications for Europe said in a March blog post.

"A week after launching UberPop the authorities decided to try and halt us from providing our low cost option by impounding two cars of UberPop drivers," she wrote, adding that "this disproportionate and targeted measure is clearly intended to limit choice for Brussels riders and drivers."

Read more: NSW Transport puts an end to Uber's 'ride-sharing' app

"Rather than communicate directly with us, authorities used media to leak information, document the impoundments and announce a letter to Uber that we had yet to receive. They even found time to orchestrate a reality TV show to cover one impoundment, ambushing a Brussels driver with a camera," she said, adding that these events make clear that Brussels authorities do not understand the needs of their residents.

After the impoundments, UberPop was made available for free for one week in Brussels, while the company called on the authorities to start a public dialogue and "not play games."

Uber is rolling out its UberPop services in several European cities, including Paris, Berlin and Barcelona. Uber has experienced resistance from traditional taxi drivers in Paris and in other cities.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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