More trouble brewing for Uber in Brussels

Uber is an illegal service that keeps violating the rules, a Brussels minister said

There is more trouble brewing for ride-hailing service Uber in Brussels where the minister for mobility announced he will file a complaint with the police to take the company's site offline in Belgium.

That's not all, though. Brussels-Capital Region Minister Pascal Smet, will also file a criminal complaint against Uber and will inform Apple and Google that the Uber apps in their app stores incite illegal practices, he said Friday.

Moreover, two of his colleagues responsible for fiscal and social fraud will start investigations into the company's business practices. "As long as Uber refuses to abide by some basic rules in the field of safety, liability and social protection, it remains an illegal service," said Smet.

In Brussels, the company runs UberPop, a ride-sharing service that typically uses drivers who drive their own cars but who do not have licenses to transport passengers for a fee.

The company refuses to give insight into how it meets, or fails to meet, fiscal and social regulations, Smet said. Some Uber drivers also have other jobs and only moonlight for Uber, while others get paid by Uber while also receiving an unemployment allowance. Such forms of fraud are unacceptable and create unfair competition for taxi companies that abide by the rules, he said.

Uber was banned from operating in Brussels by the Brussels Commercial Court in April because drivers don't have commercial licenses after a lawsuit was filed by Brussels taxi company Taxis Verts. However, Uber flouted that ban and just kept operating its service, despite a court order that it has to pay a penalty of €10,000 (about US$12,500) per violation.

Besides the mentioned measures, the Brussels government will also start employing "mystery shoppers" in a bid to increase controls on Uber, which could include confiscating the cars of drivers, Smet said.

Meanwhile, Smet will continue his work on modernization of regulations for the taxi sector. New rules must make regular taxis more consumer friendly while technological innovation and car-sharing initiatives will also have a place in the regulations, he said.

The Brussels Uber crackdown follows a week of turmoil around the U.S.-based company, with pressure mounting worldwide over similar issues. On Tuesday for instance, it was banned from operating in Spain for "unfair competition" and conducting unauthorized services, while a Dutch court upheld a ban on UberPop in the Netherlands Monday.

Uber was also banned in Delhi Monday after one of its drivers was charged with raping a female passenger over the weekend. Meanwhile, the company was sued in the U.S. by the city of Portland, Oregon, in a bid to halt its service until it obtains permits to operate legally.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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