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Brussels' taxi sector divided over capital's mobility policy

10:56 11/01/2021

Taxi federation Febet has warned that it is considering calling a strike in protest against the Zone 30 speed restrictions in the Brussels Capital region and the capital’s proposed per-kilometre road tax, citing a lack of consultation on both policies. But the Brussels Taxi Federation (BTF), which split from Febet two years ago, prefers the path of dialogue.

"We have been requesting a consultation and more information on the government's intentions on mobility since 2019," Febet said in a statement. Febet plans to strike if its demands are not met. The demands, however, are strong: an abolition of the general 30kph zone, more taxi pitches, scrapping plans for a congestion charge, a reduction in taxes and finally an implementation of the long-standing taxi reform.

According to Febet, the Zone 30 is causing a sharp slowdown in the sector's ability to make ends meet, "already under pressure from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and Uber". The federation also thinks the taxes for taxis are too high: "We are not seen as a public service in the eyes of the cabinet of mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt, we are only simple road users," the statement read. Taxis do indeed pay more taxes than other shared cars like those of community car-sharing firms such as Cambio.

Febet wants talks with Van den Brandt, but according to the federation, the mobility minister has handed the situation over to Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort. Even though Vervoort is responsible for public transport, "taxis should be a competence of the mobility minister," Febet said. "For these reasons, we need to mobilise against a government that, instead of dealing with the economy, is only concerned with bicycles, toll radars and speeding signs."

However, the Brussels taxi federation BTF does not agree with this at all. "We maintain good contacts with both cabinets," said chairman Sam Bouchal. "It is not a bad thing that the reform of the taxi sector, a dossier that has been dragging on for a while, has gone to the cabinet of Vervoort. This way we can be sure that the people in the cabinet are familiar with the complexities of the file."

According to Febet, this reform has already made a false start, because it would be based on a report by consultancy firm Deloitte, which has carried out work for Uber in other countries. The study itself is devastating for the traditional taxi industry: low wages, a bad image and an unprofitable economic model are killing off the sector. The study must first receive an opinion from Brupartners (the former Economic and Social Council of Brussels) before it can be made public. BTF also has questions about the history of the study, 'but that is a decision of former mobility minister Pascal Smet and can therefore hardly be blamed on the new minister'.

BTF, unlike Febet, is not categorically against Zone 30. "We are more likely to look at the future commercial impact,” said Sam Bouchal. “We can't measure that now, during the lockdown. Moreover, a large part of Brussels was already Zone 30, so it is not certain whether this will make that much difference in reality. We are more concerned with access to bus lanes for taxis than with an ideological crusade."

Written by Nick Amies