On-demand car service company Uber is in the news again for very sad reasons. As Rude Baguette reported earlier this morning, taxi drivers in Paris are apparently attacking Uber cars, drivers and passengers; you can follow the discussion about that via Techmeme.

In related news, Belgian newspaper De Tijd this morning reported (paywall) that Uber wants to bring its taxi alternative to Belgium at some point this year. That remains to be seen, however.

Uber spokeswoman Susanne Stulemeijer told De Tijd reporter Peter De Groote that Uber wants to launch in Belgium in the course of 2014 – likely first in Brussels and later in Antwerp, according to the article.

Belgian law says no

In a conversation with Tech.eu, Stulemeijer confirms Uber’s desire to launch its service in Belgium, but says availability will depend largely on local governments’ willingness to allow it in the first place.

As it stands now, it would be against Belgian law (see update below) for a company like Uber to operate the way it normally does. Stulemeijer says Uber has been wanting to launch in Belgium for some time now, but that it has met fierce resistance from the taxi industry, which has a firm grip on the situation here.

Update: Stulemeijer says Uber isn’t straight-up illegal in Belgium, but existing regulations would prevent the company from building a viable business there.

More specifically, the minimum time for a hired driver to place a vehicle into service is 3 hours, and the minimum far for those hours is 90 euros.

Either way, Uber wanting to launch in Belgium is hardly a major development for the company (although still very welcome news for me, as I currently live in Brussels); the service is already available in a number of European cities, including Paris, Berlin, London, Dublin, Rome and Stockholm, and the company is constantly expanding.

Taxi drivers say no, too

Here’s the kicker: De Tijd quotes taxi industry rep Constantin Tsatsakis, who posited that the Belgian government will likely never approve of Uber simply because the taxi drivers wouldn’t be in favour.

Tsatsakis, who is the president of a trade organization that represents Brussels taxi drivers, said that he not only was he against Uber making its debut in Belgium, but that he was also confident that the Belgian government will follow his organization’s recommendations in the matter because “that’s how things work”. Let’s pray that this is not simply “how things work” in this small pretty nation.

Alas, I reached out to Tsatsakis earlier this afternoon, and he confirmed the above in a phone conversation, repeatedly saying that Uber will never be able to successfully establish a business in Belgium. Tsatsakis claimed he hadn’t heard about the shenanigans going on in Paris today.

Power to the lobby

The fact that taxi drivers aren’t exactly thrilled with Uber launching anywhere, as it has the potential to disrupt their business tremendously, isn’t much of a surprise. What’s worrying in this case, however, is the apparent overly confidence of a taxi industry representative with regards to how the Belgian government will respond to Uber landing in these parts.

Stulemeijer says Uber cares about the consumer first and foremost, and lamented the fact that the taxi industry has such as powerful lobby in this country and others, but that Belgium continues to be high up the company’s wish list of places to operate in.

At the end of the day, Uber will have to wait for the Belgian government to amend the law in a way that will allow it to operate its service viably in Belgium in the first place. There’s no telling if, and when, that will happen, but you can rest assured that Belgian taxi drivers aren’t going to keep quiet while Uber tries to get the relevant legislation changed in their favour.

Personally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Uber (and other companies offering similar services) to be able to launch in Belgium sooner than later. If you’ve ever had to take a taxi in this country – and particularly in the bigger cities – you will understand why.

Featured image credit: Phil Whitehouse / Flickr

  • Ramon Suarez

    User would be a great alternative to the current taxi central, which are costly, opaque and inefficient. The drivers in the USA use it. It is a much needed service to improve the poor service we get in Brussels, where you cannot trust that a taxi will arrive when you order it and the drivers are reckless and impolite / aggressive. I look forward to having other drivers.

  • Randy Dallmann

    If you have lived in Belgium for any amount of time then you should know that what Tsatsakis said “that’s how things work” is not only true, it’s the country motto. It’s the main reason that customer service sucks so badly in this country, they do their best to keep competitors out.

  • Thibaut Nguyen

    “If you’ve ever had to take a taxi in this country – and particularly in the bigger cities – you will understand why.”

    I’m sorry but there is just nothing to back that up.
    I’m happy with the way Brussels taxi businesses are being run.

    I usually deal with Taxi Verts and they have the best UX: dial their phone number, dial 1 for immediate service, 1 to select your home address (yes they stored it), 1 to confirm. You then get an approximate pickup time (usually btw 5 & 10 min which I found to be pretty accurate). So yeah there’s no app to download, no registration form and it takes me 30 sec to order.
    Their taxi drivers are most of the time really nice people and the rate is not too expensive.

    Sorry Djump and Über but while I welcome innovation and competition, there’s no reason for me to sign up.

    • http://robinwauters.com/ Robin Wauters

      Wow, you and I have different experiences my friend :)

      • Thibaut Nguyen

        Or we react differently to similar situations ;)

        • http://robinwauters.com/ Robin Wauters

          Also possible :) But I take a lot of taxis in a *lot* of different countries, and in my opinion Belgian taxi drivers are impolite and sometimes straight-up aggressive. They’ve also tried to rip me off on two occasions because they figured I was a tourist (coming from Brussels Airport).

          • Nicolas Mertens

            What I don’t understand is that the taxi drivers don’t see this as an excellent way to start “on their own” and make a better living than driving for a dispatch.

          • Alexander Dresen

            Exactly. You should note that Uber is just another dispatch service, a better one obviously. And once the market has been reshuffled they will take a bigger piece of the pie than the current local dispatches.

            What I don’t get is why the local taxis don’t fight back with technology. Uber isn’t rocket-science.

            And I totally agree with Robin. Brussels and Antwerp taxis suck!

    • Ramon Suarez

      it would be great if they respected the pick-up times, but you never know with them, nor with Taxis-bleus which is marginally better. I got tired of being left stranded. On top of it you have to add the rudeness and bad driving and the fact that because I have a foreign accent a lot of them try to show me around Brussels or bitch at me because I’m not going to the airport.