Vervoort says Uber drivers won’t be fined yet, calls for taxi reform
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Vervoort says Uber drivers won’t be fined yet, calls for taxi reform

A taxi rank in Brussels. Credit: Brussels Mobility

Uber drivers will receive warnings for now instead of fines if they use their smartphones to book fares, says Brussels Minister-President Rudi Vervoort following this afternoon’s meeting on the subject.

Uber drivers were banned from using their phones at the beginning of the week, leaving the American rideshare company effectively unable to operate in the Belgian capital and causing mixed reactions from politicians and city residents.

According to Vervoort, Uber is abusing existing legislation by classifying itself as a limousine service in order to get around many of the rules that apply to taxis. He is calling for a draft of new taxi legislation before the arrival of summer, with input from taxi services, Uber, and Heetch, a French-based ride hailing app.

“The [police] checks serve as a warning,” he said. “We will remind the drivers of the rules. In the meantime, we try to find a sustainable solution as soon as possible.”

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Because Uber classifies itself as a limousine service, under Belgian law its drivers must have a pre-filled written contract that meets a series of conditions, and they are not allowed to look for customers on the street.

They are also not supposed to be connected to a platform that provides them with assignments that can be carried out immediately. A limousine with driver must be pre-booked with a written contract and is intended for the transportation of customers for several hours.

The Belgian trade union ACV and the Collective of Taxi Workers both urged Vervoort to bring order to the chaos that has arisen from the effective ban.

ACV says Brussels taxi drivers have become victims of unfair competition from the US-based technology giant.

“The user protection rules were circumvented, so many workers were encouraged by the platform to invest in an activity built on loose sand,” they said.

The General Belgian Trade Union Federation (ABVV) has proposed that Brussels make a taxi app similar to Uber that taps into the existing taxi companies, as a solution.

“The taxi industry needs to make use of new technologies and modern applications, but not at the expense of working conditions and drivers’ wages. With the US platform’s economic model, this is exactly what is happening,” said Frank Moreels, the union president.

Drivers for Uber caused traffic chaos on the Klein Ring (or little beltway) this afternoon when they drove in a protest procession to Vervoort’s official residence for the meeting.