It’s been under two weeks since Uber launched urban ride-sharing service UberPOP in Brussels, which almost immediately resulted in backlash from the local government, which deemed the service illegal and had two cars driven by UberPOP drivers impounded earlier this week.
If you read the comments of the Brussels government, and more specifically minister Brigitte Grouwels and her cabinet, you would come away with the impression that Uber’s debut in the city was unexpected and unannounced, taking them by surprise.
That’s not the truth, Uber now says.
In a blog post, Uber rep Susanne Stulemeijer notes that the company would like to “share the facts” and “clear up the misinformation”.
Uber claims it’s been in regular contact with minister Grouwels’ cabinet and 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.
Stulemeijer writes that the authorities have now stopped communicating directly with Uber, and that they are using media to make a spectacle out of blocking Uber from operating in Brussels:
A week after launching uberPOP the authorities decided to try and halt us from providing our low cost option by impounding two cars of uberPOP drivers two days ago. This disproportionate and targeted measure is clearly intended to limit choice for Brussels riders and drivers.
Rather than communicate directly with us, authorities used media to leak information, document the impoundments and announce a letter to Uber that we had yet to receive. They even found time to orchestrate a reality TV show to cover one impoundment, ambushing a Brussels driver with a camera.
These events have made one thing very clear: Brussels authorities do not understand the needs of their residents – transparency and choice at affordable prices.
We call on the authorities to make it their priority to start a public dialogue on improving Brussels’ mobility in the very near future – not play games.
Uber is also taunting the government by offering UberPOP free of charge for everyone in Brussels this week. No doubt, more actions (and likely launches in other Belgian cities) will follow.
Meanwhile, the authorities are also focusing some of their attention on local rival Djump, which says it’s seen a surge of interest thanks to the whole ordeal.
Notably, minister Grouwels’ website features a recent blog post entitled “Brigitte does it for the taxis”. The politician went undercover (fake wig and everything) to do an impromptu gauging of customer satisfaction with Brussels taxis.
Ironically, the video shows some people confirming my own experiences with Brussels taxis: there aren’t enough, they’re expensive, and the drivers tend to be rude and drive aggressively.
And yet, it appears more affordable alternatives aren’t welcome in Brussels.
Minister Grouwels’ cabinet didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.