Uber shifts strategy, requiring taxi licenses for Dutch UberPop drivers

Uber tries to settle its legal problems in the Netherlands but will have to do more to get out of trouble

Uber will require drivers of its Dutch UberPop ride-hailing service to have a taxi license. That will not, however, be enough to mitigate its legal troubles in the country.

UberPop connects passengers with drivers who use their own cars and typically don't have a taxi license, allowing them to offer rides for a much lower fare then regular taxis.

A Dutch court last year declared the service illegal, banning it because it unfairly competes with strictly regulated taxi services. Even though fines totaled €100,000, several UberPop drivers landed in court and Dutch authorities raided company offices, Uber kept on flouting the ban, operating UberPop with unlicensed drivers.

However, on Wednesday the company said it has decided "to accommodate" Dutch authorities by requiring UberPop drivers to have a proper taxi license. "With this step, Uber hopes to meet the government's concerns regarding the safety, reliability and quality of UberPop," the company said in a blog post.

Uber will help current and future UberPop drivers to obtain necessary licenses as well as medical certificates. By doing this, Uber said it hoped to meet the shared ambition of the company, the government and travelers: more choice, more competition, higher quality and lower prices.

This is not enough, said a spokeswoman for the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate, the authority that raided Uber's offices and is continuing to investigate UberPop.

To become legal, the cars also need to undergo an inspection and be equipped with special devices including a taxi meter, she said. "They have to comply with the same rules as regular taxi services."

While in the Netherlands, Uber is looking to become legal by requiring licenses for drivers, elsewhere it is taking a different tack, after UberPop was banned in France, Spain, Belgium and Germany.

In Germany, Uber announced last week it would lower the price of UberPop in Frankfurt and Munich to €0.35 (US$0.39) per kilometer.

Previously, UberPop had lowered prices in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Hamburg. By lowering its prices, Uber hopes to fall within the scope of prices allowed for legal carpooling services. Regulations for carpool services are less stringent than those for taxi services. UberPop prices had been higher than those set for legal carpooling services but lower than what regular taxis cost.

The new prices will be more attractive for users but will be far less interesting for drivers and probably make it a lot more difficult to find UberPop cars in those cities, Uber said.

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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