Taxis jam Brussels in protest over possible Uber arrival

axi drivers line a street during a protest against online ride-sharing company Uber, in central Brussels on Tuesday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
axi drivers line a street during a protest against online ride-sharing company Uber, in central Brussels on Tuesday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - Hundreds of taxis jammed central Brussels on Tuesday in a protest against the city's planned reform of the industry that could lead to the legalisation of online ride-sharing services such as Uber.

Brussels' Transport Minister Pascal Smet outlined plans last week for taxi reform in the Belgian capital from the start of 2016, including conditions under which the fast-growing U.S. company Uber could operate.

Taxis drove slowly through central Brussels, bearing banners such as "No to Uber" and blocking major intersections. Unions said 1,200 taxis took part, including about 100 from France. Police said there were about 600.

Taxi drivers across Europe, many of whom benefit from highly regulated markets, say Uber breaks local taxi rules and violates licensing, insurance and safety regulations.

Facing legal action in Germany, France and the Netherlands, Uber, which helps users find rides via their smartphones, has promised to create 50,000 jobs this year in European cities that are willing to let them take root.

Smet has said he is aware that Uber and rivals risk creating poorly paid jobs and said Uber would only be allowed to operate according to set criteria - notably keeping a register of all drivers, vehicles and journeys made and paying tax in full.

Drivers signed up to Uber would have to be at least 21 and could only do the activity as a side job, with regular taxi drivers also able to sign up. Vehicles would have to be no older than seven years and subject to an annual check-up.

"I am paying taxes, I am paying my dues, I pay double insurance for my cab. Is Uber paying all that?" asked taxi driver Haydar Dogan.

Sandra Langenus, regional secretary of transport union FGTB-UBT, also condemned any move to let in Uber.

"It's simply about undercutting the price. We would just be entering a downward spiral in terms of pay and conditions," she said.

The taxi plan, which would be subject to a vote in the regional parliament, envisages new fixed fares for short journeys or those to the airport and a smartphone application that would allow consumers to hail a taxi online.

Taxi drivers who have worked for three years without complaints would earn certificates of excellence and a regional annual tax of 575 euros (S$879) would be scrapped.

Brussels, a city of about 1 million people, has 1,300 licensed taxis and some 3,000 drivers.

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