Uber to close most of its service in Belgium tomorrow after a court ruling

Uber will stop its ride-sharing service in most of Belgium tomorrow following a court ruling on Wednesday extending a 2015 order banning its p2p service UberPop to also cover professional drivers who provide its ride-sharing service.

Uber told us that it is studying the details of the ruling to decide whether to appeal the decision to the country’s Supreme Court.

The move also follows a temporary suspension of Uber’s service in Brussels in September, an action the tech giant called “exceptional and unprecedented,” saying it was only taking the step to protest the lack of rule reform that they prohibit drivers from using smartphones.

Following the Brussels Court of Appeal ruling this week, private rental car drivers have also been blocking a major tunnel in the Belgian capital.

In a statement about the imminent shutdown on Friday, Uber’s country boss Laurent Slits once again attacked the Belgian government for failing to implement a reform it has been pushing for, writing: “This decision was made on the basis of regulations. outdated written in a pre-smartphone era, which the government has promised and failed to implement for the past seven years. “

According to Bloomberg, which reported on the closure of Uber previously, it will not apply to a small number of licensed drivers in a Flemish region of the country and will therefore still be allowed to use the app.

Uber confirmed that the Court of Appeals ruling only affects drivers with Brussels licenses.

In the statement, Slits added that the tech giant is “deeply concerned” about the 2,000 LVC licensees (also known as driver’s license rental car) who, it said, “will lose their ability to generate income.” [via Uber’s platform] since Friday”.

That phrase, “generate income”, refers to the fact that Uber does not employ drivers directly in Belgium; instead, it classifies them as independent contractors. Therefore, it cannot claim that 2,000 “jobs” are about to be lost, since, in the first place, it does not provide employment contracts to the LVC drivers in question.

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

In March, the local government in Brussels banned Uber drivers from picking up rides via smartphone and geolocation.

Since then, Uber drivers in the city have been operating in a legal gray zone, where they risk penalties if they continue to drive using their app. However, the company suggests that drivers have received conflicting messages, claiming that authorities sometimes tell drivers, privately, that they can keep driving.

An Uber spokesman called the government’s March order “flawed,” noting that it had promised a reform of the law before the summer. According to Reuters, the Belgian government drew up a bill to reform the rules in September. But according to Uber, the industry as a whole has yet to see the text.

Uber suggested that there is widespread support in Belgium for reforming the 1995 rules, not only from LVC drivers who serve customers through its platform, but also from traditional taxi companies.

However, local taxi companies in Brussels have their own ideas for reform, and have also said they are interested in robbing Uber drivers to cover the taxi driver shortage.

An industry spokesperson recently told TaxiPro that there is a deficit of more than 600 taxi drivers in the capital that LVC holders who have been driving for Uber could fill.

“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 Uber drivers could be offered permanent contracts, adding: “We are pulling them out of illegality.”

Bouchal also told TaxiPro that the taxi industry wants to avoid what he called “a social massacre.”

Concern over concert working conditions has been a hot topic across Europe for years, leading to dozens of legal challenges, and a 2017 ruling by Europe’s high court that Uber is a transportation service and, therefore, you cannot simply circumvent local taxi regulations.

In the UK, Uber was also recently forced to recognize drivers as workers after losing the latest in a long list of job challenges in the country’s Supreme Court.

Yet in Belgium, a central power center for the European Commission, the ridesharing giant continues to push for favorable changes in the law to grease the engines of its platform business.

Uber is also lobbying the Commission to address ride-sharing regulations in the block’s single market in an upcoming urban mobility framework. – that the EU executive has said that it wants to support the development of urban transport systems that are “safe, accessible, inclusive, affordable, smart, resilient and emission-free”.

Uber’s hope here is that EU lawmakers will seek to enforce rules that override regulations at the city level, establishing a pan-European enabling framework for transportation services, which would mean it could simply ignore demands from local authorities.

However, the Commission has also said that it wants the urban mobility framework to address ‘transport pollution and congestion’, so it is unclear how removing regulatory barriers to shared transport would be more than counterproductive on that front.

Cars remain the least efficient way to transport people in dense urban environments, given the space they require and the relatively small number of people who can move in the space occupied by a single car versus a train, bus, bicycle, etc. skating, walking, etc. The rise in micromobility has also boosted the range of car alternatives available, so the case for cars in cities is shrinking rapidly.

The coronavirus pandemic has also prompted several European cities to focus on transforming street infrastructure to be more pedestrian and local, also taking advantage of the rise in micromobility to enact policies that deliberately downplay the car. Simply put, cleaner air and more vibrant local streets (and school bike trains) are difficult to discuss.

While Brussels has not been at the forefront of those developments, the city has been looking to reduce the number of cars on its infamously congested and polluted roads in recent years. Therefore, the Belgian government may have reason to stop and consider the implications of any ride-sharing reform.

In parallel, the European Commission has been working on another legislative initiative, which wants to improve the conditions of platform workers throughout the bloc, responding to high levels of concern about factors such as lack of job security and precarious income.

On that front, Uber has also been busy lobbying, and is accused of pressuring EU lawmakers to lower standards for rig workers, with critics saying it is trying to replicate its success by repealing a California law. which sought to classify concert workers as employees.

Therefore, the battle at the street level for the European social contract is very real.

To update: The government of Brussels has announced to reach an agreement on the reform of the taxi sector, which it said would focus on four main objectives: a common legal framework for the sector; improve the quality of customer service; regulate reservation platforms; and protect the local economy.

Uber welcomed the development, issuing a statement describing it as “an important first step for the 2,000 drivers who have been waiting for reform for seven years”; and adds that he hopes that the government nowact quickly to consult LVC drivers and bring this proposal to parliament, while taking immediate steps to safeguard income opportunities for drivers so they can continue to support their families. “

However, in its statement, the Brussels government rebuked Uber for creating a legal risk situation for LVC drivers, and Minister Rudi Vervoort criticized Uber for irresponsibly allowing the sector to develop “with the legal risk of seeing this device forbidden “and for” cheating “. LVC drivers, noting that since the 2015 ruling banning UberPop there has been an increase of almost 448% in the number of drivers in the LVC sector with Brussels license plates.

“I am deeply moved by the anguish of the LVC drivers. They are not responsible for this situation, ”added Vervoort.

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