The courts of appeal are the main appellate courts in the judicial system of Belgium, which hear appeals against judgements of the tribunals of first instance, the enterprise tribunals and the presidents of those tribunals in their judicial area.
Since 26 November 2021, around 2000 drivers and many more passengers will no longer be able to use the app UberX. This was decided by the Brussels Court of Appeal. In the meantime, a temporary emergency ordinance has been approved in view of a later definitive Brussels taxi reform so that the Uber drivers, under strict conditions, can once again operate in the capital.
In its order to cease, the Commercial Court of Brussels imposes a ban on the application UberPop because Uber would work with private individuals who transport people for a fee. In doing so, Uber would be unfairly competing with taxi companies, as Uber drivers would not have to hold a taxi license. Per illegal ride via UberPop, the company would have to pay a fine of €10000. As a reaction, Uber launched UberX, an application whereby Uber only cooperates with drivers who possess a so-called VVB permit, a permit to rent out a vehicle with driver, like limousine drivers.
Also in Europe, the qualification of the platform Uber as a transport company was subject to discussion. As already described in our previous article: UBER – Transport company, the Court of Justice decided in 2017 that Uber’s service should be qualified as a transport service and not as an information society service.
This was prompted by a preliminary question in a dispute between Uber drivers and a professional association of taxi drivers in the city of Barcelona, on the grounds that Uber drivers were driving without a license, which would violate Spanish competition law. Uber drivers were therefore required to comply with Spanish taxi regulations to avoid committing an act of unfair competition.
Back at home, on January 16, 2019, the French-speaking Commercial Court of Brussels ruled that the ‘taxi company’ Uber complied with Brussels legislation on paid passenger transport. Uber would act as an intermediary without offering taxi services. Based on the ruling, Uber was allowed to continue offering its services in Brussels, much to the frustration of Febet, “Fédération Belge des Taxis”. The latter therefore filed an appeal against the judgment, since Uber drivers were said to be abusing their VVB licence.
It is against this appeal that the Court of Appeal has now decided to reverse the decision and extend the 2015 order to cease to the UberX application. As of November 26, 2021 around 6pm, Uber is no longer allowed to offer its services through UberX under penalty of fines. Only drivers with a taxi license would still be allowed to work via UberX.
In the meantime, on December 10, the Government of Brussels reached an agreement on a temporary solution with a view to a later, definitive Brussels taxi reform. The temporary arrangement will run until the ordinance on the reform of the taxi sector comes into force, which should establish a fully-fledged unique status for the profession. In this way, the Uber drivers will be able to get back on the road under strict conditions.
For example, they will only be allowed to drive on the basis of an exploitation license applied for by January 15, 2021 at the latest, and drivers will have to prove, among other things, that they offer their services for more than 20 hours a week on average. Also, the rides will have to be ordered in advance via a platform, physical soliciting of customers is prohibited. Finally, they will not be allowed to station themselves on public roads or at the reserved taxi stands.
“My government has worked very hard and we are pleased that today we can propose a temporary solution, which should make it possible for drivers affected by the Uber’s decision to return to work quickly. This proposal respects the court rulings of recent years on this electronic platform and at the same time paves the way for the future ordinance that will establish a fully-fledged unique status for the profession. I am very pleased about that,” said Minister President Rudi Vervoort.
But less than three weeks later, the Brussels government has opted for a different interpretation of the temporary emergency ordinance. Thus, drivers with a Walloon or Flemish Uber licence would no longer be allowed to work in the capital.
Minister-President Rudi Vervoort even threatens to withdraw the licence of Uber if it turns out that Uber deliberately allows Flemish and Walloon drivers to drive in Brussels. The Uber saga thus does not seem to have come to an end yet.
To be continued…
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