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Uber offers alternative proposals as Brussels taxi reform stalls

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: Illustration shows the logo of Uber on a smart phone during a protest of Brussels taxi drivers against taxi-app Uber, in Brussels. (BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK)
09:40 23/09/2021

Independent chauffeurs with an LVC licence, working for companies such as Uber and Heetch, want to have the same rights and obligations as taxi drivers in Brussels, according to a survey carried out by the Uber platform. Some 80% of respondents want a single status for both sectors, as is the case in Flanders.

A reform of the sector in Brussels has been promised for several years but the lack of progress is frustrating actors on all sides. On Wednesday, Uber made several concrete proposals to the Brussels government which it says is dragging its heels in regard to the long-awaited ‘Taxi Plan’.

The taxi plan should provide clarity on driver status and rights, but it has already been postponed several times. In 2014, the Brussels government announced that it would create a legal framework for the reform. This promise was repeated in 2019, and in March 2021, the region's minister-president Rudi Vervoort announced that the plan would be launched before the summer. In Flanders, the taxi plan has already been implemented.

Uber claims the Brussels government has again failed to keep its promise. The American company, backed by several organisations which represent LVC drivers, therefore took advantage of the first day of autumn to add pressure on the government. “It's autumn and there's nothing there yet,” said Laurent Slits, director of Uber Belgium. “The drivers work in great uncertainty."

Faced with an "obsolete" regulation dating from 1995, 10 years before the appearance of smartphones, Uber proposes a reform that will allow the 2,000 LVC drivers active in the capital via its platform to finally have their status recognised. "According to the law, we don't exist," said Mehmet Öz, one of the Uber drivers who responded to the survey. "The uncertainty is unbearable.”

Drivers run the risk of receiving warnings or fines of up to €160 for non-compliance with the 1995 regulations. "To make them wait longer for a decision is unacceptable," added Slits. "I don't understand why the government isn't doing everything it can to save these jobs."

91% of drivers surveyed by Uber are worried about their future while 93% find that the current Brussels legislation needs to be modernised. They illustrate their point by the decision taken last March by the Brussels administration to prohibit Uber drivers from using their smartphone to accept ride orders.

According to the drivers, the reform should include fair conditions for taxi and LVC drivers, with the same rights and obligations for each of them and therefore a unique status for both. They invite the Brussels government to draw inspiration from the many European countries which have reformed their taxi sectors but also from Flanders, where a version of the taxi plan, although not yet perfect, has already been successfully implemented.

"Rather than continuing to oppose, we must unify the sector with a single license,” said Slits. “The market will then develop on a sound basis."

Uber also argues for a dynamic price structure that increases at peak hours and decreases at off-peak hours, like the high and low season tariff changes in the tourism sector. "As long as it is transparent and clear to the customer, who can then make an informed choice," added Slits.

The drivers further suggest that there should no longer be a limit to the number of drivers allowed in the capital. According to a study by the consulting firm Deloitte, conducted last year at the request of the Brussels government, about 6,000 drivers are needed to meet the demand in the capital. Today, some 3,000 of them are active in Brussels, whether they are taxi drivers or LVC chauffeurs. So, there is still room for a further 3,000 drivers in the capital, said Slits.

Demand for Uber cars has "exploded" in recent years, according to Slits, and has at least doubled since 2016. Today, the platform can no longer keep up, to the detriment of customers who have to wait longer and longer for a car. This will only increase as the traffic in Brussels gets back to normal and bars, cafes and clubs are fully reopened at night, he points out.

However, according to Fernando Redondo, president of the Belgian Association of Limousine Drivers (ABCL), the Brussels government has rejected the Deloitte study and does not take its findings into account.

Finally, LVC drivers and the platforms employing them want to review the current regulations that require them to use expensive vehicles (costing more than €50,000), which prevents them from using electric or hybrid cars or vehicles that are not considered luxury.

In addition to the companies and associations representing LVC drivers, the Brussels taxi federation FeBeT, the Taxi Workers Collective and the Ingoboka Taxi company have joined forces to present their own version of the Taxi Plan. One of the measures they are considering is the recruitment of 600 Uber drivers for the Victor Cab platform, an online booking and reservation application founded by FeBeT director Khalid Ed-Denguir which uses licensed taxis in Brussels.

Written by Nick Amies