Brussels residents sign petition to keep Uber operating in the capital

Residents of Brussels are signing a petition protesting the smartphone ban for Uber drivers that has left the US-based rideshare company unable to operate in the Belgian capital this week.

Reactions to the ban have been mixed, with some politicians calling its basis (a 1995 law against “radio communication devices”) flimsy and others arguing that the American business model (in which drivers are contractors without basic workers’ rights) has no place in a progressive European city.

But few actors involved seemed to have consulted with a key stakeholder: the people who live in Brussels and use Uber.

“We live in the capital of Europe, and we’re frustrated,” Francesca Mutasci told The Brussels Times. “We expect Brussels to have excellent taxi services for its residents and we expect there to be a place for everyone who wants to work in Brussels.”

Mutasci has been a Brussels resident for 12 years, and started the petition to let Uber continue operating because she and others are reliant on taxi services in a city that has worked hard to discourage car ownership.

“If we ban Uber, we have no alternative for the moment,” says Mutasci, who frequently used Uber to get to important appointments and meetings because of both the reliability of the service and the safety features offered.

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“As a woman, I want to be able to get information about the driver and see their rating before booking a ride, and then share my ride info with others," she says, adding that the rating system is useful not only for users, but also for drivers.

Mutasci is referring to two aspects of the Uber experience that are also cited in the petition she made: driver and rider profiles that reflect a user-based rating system, and an Uber rider’s ability to share their ride information (including the car’s make and model, plate number, driver name, and live GPS updates) throughout the trip.

These features allow riders - women, in particular - to feel safe when using the taxi service.

The petition also cites other benefits to the American technology giant’s rideshare program, including clean, modern cars, and polite, attentive drivers motivated to provide excellent service by the driver rating system.

Also listed is the ease of payment.

“Because my credit card is linked to my Uber account, I could go out before the coronavirus and not have to bring my wallet or money,” says Mutasci. “The cashless solution is the future.”

While all Brussels taxis are now required to accept card payments, stories abound of riders in Brussels who’ve had drivers that tried to charge extra for the mandated service.

Mutasci makes it clear that the petition’s aim isn’t to defend the company of Uber or any of its business practices, many of which have been challenged in courts of law across multiple countries.

“We’re not defending Uber as a company,” she says. “We want the drivers, who provide excellent service, and a similar tool. We want access to these kinds of technologies. We are all now working and living with a smartphone - the digital capabilities are there, we need to adapt to this modernization, and we want [the government] to solve this fast.”

The petition has gathered around 260 signatures so far.

Helen Lyons

The Brussels Times

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