One does not simply disrupt incumbent industries with something fresh and innovative without running into trouble with the Belgian government and its legislators. A week after launching an urban P2P ride-sharing service called UberPOP in Brussels, the first (completely privately-held) vehicles of Uber drivers have already been seized, reported newspaper La Dernière Heure this morning (via De Tijd).
Brigitte Grouwels, Brussels' minister of public works and transport, already made it clear that it wouldn't be allowing Uber to operate any of its taxi industry-threatening services in the city, and she seems to be hellbent on keeping her word.
Update (6 March): Uber just gifted everyone in Brussels one week of free UberPOP.
During a coincidental check, two UberPOP drivers had their vehicles seized by the police this morning, for not adhering to the relevant laws on taxi services.
UberPOP is different from most of the services Uber offers globally, in the sense that it’s actually not a way to book cars driven by professional drivers like the regular Uber or the cheaper UberX service.
Instead, Uber lets individuals sign up to become a driver, and acts as a facilitator for potential ‘clients’ to look up drivers and book rides (at a lower rate than ‘real’ Uber cars, of course).
That would be too convenient for people trying to get around the city, so Brussels' lawmakers want to make it impossible for Uber even to offer its watered-down transportation service.
Grouwels, with Brussels' taxi industry representatives cheering loudly in the background no doubt, has formally requested Uber to stop operating its services in Brussels entirely, something the Silicon Valley-based company appears to be intent on ignoring.
Uber rep Susanne Stulemeijer told De Tijd that it will back the two drivers as the issue gets caught up in Belgium's complicated legal system, which the company said it was thoroughly examining at the moment. Uber says it's received a lot of positive feedback from drivers and passengers alike since it launched its service in Brussels last week, and appears to have no intentions of terminating its operations in the city.
According to various media reports, Uber has claimed 'hundreds of drivers' have signed up for the service in Brussels so far, with more than 1,000 passengers sharing rides in the week after its debut.
Stulemeijer added that it was not surprised about the Brussels' government and police actions and attitude regarding the matter, noting that local rival Djump had been operating a very similar service in the past 9 months without running into any kind of legal trouble so far. Here's the bad news for Djump: the authorities will now watch the Belgian company's activities more closely.
Another victim of the whole ordeal: consumer choice.