Uber will stop its carpooling service in most of Belgium tomorrow following a court ruling on Wednesday that extends a 2015 order banning its UberPop p2p service to also cover professional drivers providing its carpooling service.
Uber told us it was studying the details of the decision to decide whether to appeal the decision to the country’s Supreme Court.
This decision also follows a temporary suspension of the Uber service in Brussels in September – an action that the tech giant called “exceptional and unprecedented”, saying it only protested the lack of reform of the rules banning drivers from using smartphones.
Following the judgment of the Brussels Court of Appeal this week, the drivers of private rental vehicles have also been blockage of a large tunnel in the Belgian capital.
In a statement on Friday’s impending shutdown, Uber country chief Laurent Slits again attacked the Belgian government for failing to implement a reform it is pushing for, writing: “This decision was taken on the basis of outdated regulations written in an era before smartphones, which the government has promised and failed to reform in the past seven years. “
Through Bloomberg, who reported the closure of Uber earlier, this will not apply to a small number of licensed drivers in a Flemish region of the country – and who will therefore still be allowed to use the app.
Uber confirmed that the decision of the Court of Appeal only concerned drivers with a Brussels license.
In the statement, Slits added that the tech giant is “deeply concerned” about the 2,000 LVC (aka rental car with driver’s license) license holders who it says “will lose their ability to generate income. [via Uber’s platform] starting on Friday”.
This formulation – “generate income” – refers to the fact that Uber does not employ drivers directly in Belgium; instead, it classifies them as independent contractors. It cannot therefore claim that 2,000 “jobs” are about to be lost since it does not provide employment contracts to the LVC drivers in question in the first place.
“We urge the government to act quickly to reform the taxi and LCV sector once and for all so that drivers can continue to work to support their families,” Slits added.
Back March the local government in Brussels has banned Uber drivers from picking up errands via smartphones and geolocation.
Since then, the city’s Uber drivers have operated in a legal gray area – where they risk penalties for continuing to drive using its app. However, the company suggests that drivers have received mixed messages, saying authorities sometimes tell drivers – in private – that they can keep driving.
A spokesperson for Uber called the government’s March decree a “mistake” – pointing out that it had promised law reform before the summer. Through Reuters, a bill to reform the rules was presented by the Belgian government in September. But, according to Uber, the industry as a whole has yet to see the text.
Uber has suggested that there is broad support in Belgium for the reform of the 1995 rules, not only from LVC drivers who serve customers through its platform, but also traditional taxi companies.
However, local taxi companies in Brussels have their own ideas for reform – and have also said they want to poach Uber drivers to fill a shortage of taxi drivers.
An industry spokesperson recently said TaxiPro there is a shortage of over 600 taxi drivers in the capital which could be filled by LVC holders who drove for Uber.
“The big advantage is that we provide a solution for these Uber drivers,” Sam Bouchal told the publication in September. [translated to English via Google Translate], claiming that Uber drivers could be offered permanent contracts, and adding: “We are taking them out of the law”.
Bouchal also told TaxiPro that the taxi industry wanted to avoid what he called a “social slaughter”.
Concerns about the working conditions of concerts have been a hot topic across Europe for years, leading to numerous legal challenges – and a 2017 decision of the highest European court that Uber is a transport service and therefore cannot simply sidestep local taxi regulations.
UK, Uber was also recently forced to recognize drivers as workers after losing the latest in a long string of employment challenges in the country’s Supreme Court.
However, in Belgium – a key center of power for the European Commission – the carpooling giant continues to push for favorable changes to the law to grease the engines of its platform business.
Uber is also pushing the Commission to address carpooling regulations across the block’s single market in an upcoming urban mobility framework – that the EU executive has declared 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 city-level regulations – establishing a pan-European enabling framework for ridesharing services, which would mean it could simply ignore requests from local authorities.
However, the Commission has also said it wants the urban mobility framework to tackle “transport pollution and congestion”.
Cars remain the least efficient way to transport people in dense urban environments given the space they need and the relatively small number of people that can be moved in the space occupied by a single car compared to a train. , a bus, a bicycle, a scooter, a walk, etc. The increase in micromobility has also fueled the range of auto alternatives available – so the case for cars in cities is rapidly diminishing.
The coronavirus pandemic has also resulted in a number of European cities to focus their attention on transforming street infrastructure to be more pedestrian and local, also leveraging the rise of micromobility to adopt policies that deliberately emphasize the car. Simply put, cleaner air and more lively local streets (and school bicycle trains) are difficult to dispute.
Although Brussels was not at the forefront of these developments, the city was seeking to reduce the number of cars on its sadly cluttered, polluted roads in recent years. Thus, the Belgian government may well have reason to stop and examine the implications of any carpooling reform.
At the same time, the European Commission worked on another legislative initiative – that it wants to improve the conditions of platform workers across the bloc, responding to high levels of concern over factors such as lack of job security and precarious income.
On this front, Uber has also been lobbying – and is accused to push EU lawmakers to lower standards for platform workers, with critics saying it seeks to replicate its success by overturning a California law that had sought to classify concert workers as employees.
The battle at street level for the European social contract is therefore very real.