Uber’s battle for acceptance from regulators in Europe received a boost after Brussels introduced plans to make the ride-sharing app legal in the city for the first time.
The US group is currently illegal in the Belgian capital, leading to Uber drivers facing hefty fines of up to €10,000 and even having their cars impounded. Brussels has become a frontline in the increasingly bitter fight between Uber, regulators and established taxi companies being waged across European cities.
While the US group can operate freely in London, in other cities such as Paris, its services are limited or — in the case of Madrid — banned outright.
The move from Brussels comes after Uber launched a charm offensive in European capitals, becoming the latest in a line of US technology companies ranging from Google to Facebook to try to soothe regulatory gripes on the continent. This new strategy came after the taxi app employed former White House strategist David Plouffe as a campaign manager.
Licensed taxi drivers in Brussels and elsewhere have lobbied hard against allowing Uber to operate. Last summer, cab drivers launched protests that snarled up traffic in London, Berlin, Paris, Madrid and Milan.
In Brussels, some taxis started bearing the logo “Ceci n’est pas un taxi clandestin” — a play on the title of a painting by Belgian surrealist René Magritte. The struggle has even turned violent, with Uber drivers in the city claiming to have had their cars vandalised by taxi drivers.
Pascal Smet, the city’s transport chief, said: “In short, Uber will work in Brussels only under very strict conditions equivalent to those imposed in the Brussels taxi industry.” Uber, and other ride-sharing apps such as Lyft, must ensure that drivers are at least 21 and share driver registration details with Brussels’ authorities, according to the new rules.
Mr Smet warned that ride-sharing apps must not dilute workers’ rights. “While these technological innovations can be a breakthrough in terms of service . . . and ease of use, if they are not embedded in a clear regulatory framework, they may open the door to an erosion of a driver’s social status.”
In a speech in Munich in January, Travis Kalanick, Uber chief executive, sought to allay these fears: “We want to make 2015 a year when we establish a new partnership with European cities . . . we can provide massive economic benefits to cities and their economies,” he said. “If we can make these partnership happen, we can create 50,000 new jobs in 2015.”
Legislation in Brussels will be hammered out this summer, before being approved by Brussels’ regional parliament in autumn and coming into force at the start of 2016. In the meantime, however, Uber remains illegal in the city.
Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, general manager of western Europe at Uber, said: “Choice, efficiency and affordability in urban mobility are essential priorities in public policy, and the Brussels government is taking the lead from the heart of Europe.”
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