Fans of disruption and consumer choice, look away.

The Commercial Court in Brussels last week ruled that alternative transportation company Uber is no longer allowed to offer ride-sharing services under the UberPOP banner in the capital of Europe.

According to De Tijd, the court order follows a complaint from traditional taxi operators who are not in favour of competition and consumer choice and would like to see its lucrative business protected by the government.

They seem to be getting what they want: the Brussels Commercial Court has set a 10,000 euro fine for every violation of the order by Uber.

According to the court ruling, Uber is illegal in Brussels because UberPOP drivers are not in possession of a taxi license, which the incumbent taxi companies deem ‘unfair market competition’. More likely, it’s because taxis in Brussels are ludicrously expensive, and Uber is easily able to undercut prices by a large margin. Uber, which did not appear in court, is also being forced to publish the verdict in three (oddly, only French-language) newspapers.

The court is thus sending a clear message to the world: Brussels will not support innovation and disruption in the transportation space any time soon, and its inhabitants and visitors will simply have to deal with little choice, high prices and questionable quality for the time being.

Protectionism at its ugliest.

Uber has yet to publicly respond to the ruling, but has in the past repeatedly called out the Brussels government and asked it to ‘stop spreading misinformation and playing games’.

The company claims it’s been in regular contact with Brigitte Grouwels, Brussels’ minister of public transportation and her cabinet, as well as the Director of the Brussels Mobility Administration – the regulator – since September 2013, repeatedly meeting and emailing both parties about its desire of a ‘clean’ launch in Brussels.

Uber wrote that the authorities have stopped communicating with them directly, accusing the government of using the media to make a spectacle out of blocking Uber from operating in Brussels.

What a joke. Meanwhile, UberPOP has just landed in Barcelona and Berlin.

  • http://www.proudlyrepresents.com/ Remco Janssen

    Avant les Belges! #not

  • Niki Van Cleemput

    Great to live in Belgium. Where innovation and progress gets killed because of political self-preservation tactics.

    • Chandler T Wilson

      Couldn’t agree more.. It’s always pay more, get less here.

  • http://jcvangent.com/ Hans van Gent

    Wondering how this will hold up in European court..

  • EdwinDijkstra

    You claim the reason is that Uber drivers don’t have a Taxi drivers license… Why is this a joke to you? Why doesn’t Uber just get their drivers licensed?

    • http://robinwauters.com/ Robin Wauters

      There’s a difference between the UberPOP ride-sharing service (which is the only one Uber currently offers in Belgium) and ‘proper’ Uber.

      For the record, I’m not arguing whether Uber is unlawful or not, I’m lamenting that the laws were put in place in a different time, and are now being exploited and protected by a powerful taxi lobby that the government is afraid of going in against. It’s anti consumer choice and bordering on monopoly protectionism.

  • binfluential

    Balls, my first comment was deleted by Disqus. Anyway, the article would benefit from a comment, at least, from the other side of the argument. Taxi drivers pay a license and yes Uber is competition that drives down prices. It doesn’t take a genius to see that they would have an irritation with their market getting screwed while their fixed cost remains the same. Taxis are too expensive in Brussels but “co-whatever” fanboyism isn’t great either.

    • http://robinwauters.com/ Robin Wauters

      You’d be surprised how many taxi drivers become Uber drivers. Consumers deserve choice – right now, there is none.

      • binfluential

        I get that point. I’ve seen taxi drivers cream themselves in Dublin when they get a Hailo call. Still getting the views of taxi drivers from Belgium would make the article more balanced and would actually help people understand the issue. Take the train to Central Station and ask a few of them ;)

        • http://robinwauters.com/ Robin Wauters

          For the record, I’ve reached out to Grouwels’ cabinet in the past and never even received so much of a response.

          Talked to a cab industry representative for an earlier article and he told me he was surprised that I would even think that Uber will survive in Belgium considering ‘their power over the government’.

          And we’re talking about balance :)

          • binfluential

            Fair enough. I have some sympathy with the taxi driving profession, but understand that many of them will actually benefit from the Ubers of the world. In Dublin they got truly fucked by de-regulation. Licenses were getting close to 100k then the Government issued thousands of them dropping the prices to 3-5k, what happened if you bought them at the higher prices, eh, tough…So, the introduction of these new services is great for choice and all but in reality the PR machine of Uber is strong and sexy, while the PR machine of taxi drivers is slow and fat, so I stress the need for some kind of balance. lest we end up lining the pockets of a few more American billionaires while making a few more taxi drivers unemployed …

    • Chandler T Wilson

      Anything that finally forces people to do their job better, faster and cheaper in Brussels or go out of business, has my support. Let’s not forget that in many cases Uber was driving up the price of a cab ride.

  • tomthumb015

    Uber is fantastic, customers like them alot, why? simple they are much cheaper, and guess who hates them? traditional taxi drivers that want to charge much higher for their rip off taxi fares. Why is competition such a dirty to word in the EU, the Brussel courts should hang their heads in shame. Up the Ubers

  • http://about.me/manuelzafra Manuel Zafra

    The problem has happened before and it will happen again and again. When technology goes into a sector created just by laws and regulations the sector explodes like a hand grenade. And usually the only way that politicians find to fight back is with more stupid laws and more regulations.

    Sorry for those taxi drivers that paid a zillion of euros for their licenses, but you paid for a paper, you weren’t really paying for something valuable, is was just a fence for your ‘lucrative’ piece of land that, thanks to technology, it worth nothing now.

    Uber has just broken into the Spanish market through Barcelona. You’d better be prepared to see even worst actions against disruption and innovation than in Belgium. Anyone’s betting?

    • http://about.me/manuelzafra Manuel Zafra

      Well, it seems it didn’t take that much

      - “Welcome to the War”
      - “You are cheating and committing illegalities”
      - “In Barcelona, it’s going to be difficult for you”

  • Nicky

    Yet another great opportunity for tiny Belgium to stand out.. #retrograde.

  • Bart C

    “The court is thus sending a clear message to the world: Brussels will not support innovation and disruption in the transportation space any time soon [...]”

    The court said that Uber needs to obey to the law. The court did what it had to do. It’s up to Uber to get licenses or change the law. It’s very simple… But the problem with Uber is, they don’t want ANY regulations at all. That has been clear after their failed negotiations in Seattle. They’re playing a dangerous game influencing the public opinion and putting people up against the law makers.

    It’s a strategy… but a tricky one. I’m a heavy Uber user, I don’t want to loose Uber, but I’m afraid their negotiation strategy doesn’t work…

  • Christoph Raethke

    We live in a heavily regulated society. The bulwark of mutual insurances, public safety, and balances in society has been growing in Europe for 150 years, to a point where it is next to impossible to pull out single building blocks without getting in conflict with the statics of the whole edifice. As I wrote here http://berlinstartupacademy.com/blog/civilizatio the other day, entrenched entitlements go much deeper in Europe than in the U.S., and in some ways they achieve a stability in society that we all enjoy. But at the same time, they kill innovation. The Brussels court, however, can not be blamed; courts have to uphold the status quo.

  • Matthias Vandermaesen

    From the Uber statement:

    “We met with the cabinet and the regulator again and was informed that given existing tension with taxis, Uber should start the lengthy process of seeking to change existing regulation before launching UberBLACK – a proces unlikely to occur before the May elections.”

    There you have it. I think this is the most important phrase in the entire statement. And it’s the one most open to interpretation as it does not state who said what to who.

    Did Über suggest to the brussels governement to change regulation?
    Did the Brussels governement asked Über to wait and/or comply with existing regulation?
    Did the Brussels government made clear that existing regulation is up for debate?
    If it is up for debate, did the Brussels government made clear to Über that it is prior to the May elections?

    If anything, existing legislation should be critically looked upon. I agree it should not protect or favour interests of existing, well established taxi services in our capital.

    However, Über should also note that it *does* have to comply with existing regulation regarding safety, insurance, social welfare, etc. Über taxi drivers should have a clear statute: either as independent contractors or as Über employees. The last thing we should avoid is Über taxidrivers trying to make a living well below minimal wages, driving unsafely or without a minimal awareness of what this job entails.