'Uber is welcome, but on our terms'

Pascal Smet files a suit against controversial taxi service

Friday, December 12, 2014 — Brussels Mobility minister Pascal Smet files a legal complaint against Uber, the provider of the app that offers illegal taxi services in Brussels. ‘As long as Uber refuses to adhere to a few basic rules in the fields of safety, liability and social protection, it will remain an illegal service’, says Smet.

Uber is a smartphone app that brings drivers and passengers in contact with each other and offers an alternative to the regular taxi service. But the provision of taxi journeys in return for payment is regulated in Brussels, like anywhere else. Therefore, it is important that taxi services, vehicles and drivers meet certain criteria, so that the passengers's safety is secured and the liability is clearly defined in case of accidents. In Brussels the drivers working for Uber do not possess the required licence to transport passengers against payment. Besides, the company refuses to give clarity about whether it complies with the tax and social regulations or not. There have been reports of moonlighting activities, while there are also drivers who are both getting an income from Uber and who are also in receipt of unemployment benefits at the same time. Such forms of tax or social fraud are obviously inacceptable and create an unfair competition with regards to other taxi companies which abide by the rules.

Earlier this year the Brussels court of commerce condemned the practices of Uber, but the service has not been stopped. That's why Smet has sought to obtain in-depth legal advice over the last few months and has organised a concertation meeting with several competent instances. Today he announces that he is planning to file a lawsuit against Uber, so that the public prosecutor's department can conduct an in-depth investigation of the company. This way the Belgian Justice will know who is working for Uber, how the payments occur and control if the tax and social regulations are complied with. At the same time Smet will approve the civil law proceedings that the taxi company Taxis Verts has initiated earlier this year in order to put an end to competition distortion. Moreover, as from today, mystery shoppers will be called upon in order to intensify the controls performed on Uber and impound more cars. The Computer Crime Unit of the federal police has also been asked to take Uber's Belgian website offline, just like the Apple Store and Google Play Store will be informed that the app that they are providing encourages illegal practices. Finally Smet, along with his federal colleagues Elke Sleurs and Bart Tommelein, respectively competent for tax and social fraud, have agreed that their services will examine Uber's practices.

In the meantime Smet works further on the announced modernisation of the taxi sector in order to make the classical taxis more profitable and more customer-friendly. In this reform technological advances and initiatives in the areas of car sharing will be central. ‘Today, an average car in Brussels stands still 98% of the time', argues Smet. ‘Gone are the days when everybody had his own car. I want Brussels to be a frontrunner in this evolution, by promoting car sharing for instance. However, if you want to join in, you will have to take a few basic rules into account. I go for customer-friendliness and a good service, but I am also in favor of safe taxis and a correct social protection of the drivers.’

Pascal Smet