After “five months of preparatory consultations with all stakeholders” and “no less than 73 meetings”, the Brussels government approved the Taxi Plan drawn up by Mobility minister Pascal Smet. “It is our ambition to build a reliable and customer-friendly taxi service, to improve working conditions for the taxi drivers and boost the profitability of the taxi sector”, the minister said. “Moreover, there will be a strict regulatory framework that applies to everyone, so that unfair competition and social dumping through innovative services like Uber will be impossible. Only by strict regulations, we will obtain the necessary guarantees in terms of security, insurance and social protection of the drivers.”
The minister apparently attaches some belief to Uber’s sales pitch “that the car pressure in the city is growing an that available car seats are better used by car-sharing”, because that is exactly the explanation Smet gave to the admission of the carsharing services.
Smet: “This in order to reduce traffic congestion and thus making Brussels a pleasant city with an efficient range of taxi services. At times when public transport is not an option, only a proper taxi service can be a real alternative to the private car. The Brussels taxis should provide a full, customer-friendly alternative and be able to work profitably with taxi drivers who work under good conditions.”
Smet says in recent months he listened carefully to all stakeholders in the taxi sector (including the tourist services and hotel owners to) to achieve the objectives of the Taxi Plan through via support from as many stakeholders as possible. In the coming months the principles of that plan will be further elaborated in consultation with these stakeholders.
The main elements of the plan are:
- To improve customer service and avoid short trip refusals there will be a clearer and simpler tariff policy, possibly with fixed short trip fares for trips in Brussels and to the airport.
- As of January 1, 2016 acceptance of credit cards in all Brussels taxi will be obligatory.
- A universal app which connects all taxis in Brussels will improve customer service and connect drivers more quickly to waiting customers.
- Most separate bus and tram lanes may be used by taxis – except where it is deemed to be too dangerous.
- The shared ride system –now operational at night- will be expanded to 24/7. The nightly Collecto shared ride system, will still be subsidized by the Brussels Region. During the day shared rides will be possible to and from main railway stations, the Brussels and Charleroi airports and between the Heysel exhibition centre and Brussels airport.
Drivers’ working conditions
- The training of drivers and the behavioral test they must pass to be evaluated will be adjusted if necessary. The focus will be on customer satisfaction and stress-proof drivers.
- Drivers who have not received a complaint or have been ticketed for three years get a certificate of excellence, which will be visible in the taxicab and is displayed in the universal app.
- The taxi radio circuits will be regulated to eradicate a number of practices that are harmful to the drivers. These include fixed rates for drivers and assigning trips to non-Brussels taxis.
- A system of ‘mystery calls’ will be introduced to detect and tackle any racist and discriminatory practice.
Increased profitability and transparency
- Towards October 2016, each taxi will be fitted with a digital taxi meter at the expense of the Brussels Region, reducing the work load for the driver and increasing transparency.
- The annual regional tax of 575 euros per taxi will be abolished.
- Advertising in taxis will be allowed under strict conditions.
- The Brussels Region will help organize group purchases of vehicles, credit card readers, fuel and insurance in order to reduce costs for the industry.
- The limit of 1,300 taxi licenses will be evaluated and adjusted, whilst the legalization of the trade in licenses will also be looked at.
Technological innovation and new services
The Brussels government will consult with the taxi industry to develop a common legal framework for all forms of paid transport in such a way that unfair competition and social dumping will be impossible, so that the taxi sector and TNC’s can work according to equivalent terms.
Smet: “As in many other cities in the world, new transport systems have been offered by apps like Uber. These technological innovations can mean progress in terms of service, friendliness and ease of use, but if they are not embedded in a clear regulatory framework they threaten to open the door to an erosion of the social status of drivers. Without a clear regulatory framework services like Uber risk to create mini-jobs in which drivers in an uncertain status works for a limited salary.”
Rules for TNC’s
To ensure social protection for everyone, the Brussels government will elaborate a general regulatory framework under which services as Uber get a legal basis, provided they abide by certain rules in the field of security, transparency, accountability, social rules and fair taxation. In short, Uber will only work in Brussels under very strict conditions equivalent to those of the Brussels taxi sector:
- Transport services offered by private individuals with their own car on an irregular basis are possible, provided that the service provider has obtained recognition from the Brussels Region. Approval is given only if all legal requirements are met.
- It is the provider who must ensure that the commitments are met and who will be punished for violations. One possible sanction is the withdrawal of its recognition.
- The new services will not have the same privileges as the taxis (like ranks and the use of bus and tram lanes).
- The provider is required to keep a register of all drivers and their cars, and of all journeys. The taxi inspection, tax inspection and social inspectors will have access to those records.
- Drivers must be registered with the provider, be at least 21 years old and have had a driving licence for at least 3 years. Each year the provider must verify whether the drivers possess a certificate of good conduct (criminal check).
- The transport in question can never be offered on a full time basis. The drivers may only work part-time. This way no mini-jobs are created and people are not employed in a socially unacceptable way. Outside their working hours, taxi drivers are also allowed to drive for the new services.
- The service provider is responsible for the insurance of the customer and for the safety of the vehicle, which must be inspected annually and may only be up to 7 years old.
- The rates may be determined by the provider, but must be clearly communicated to the customer. Deviations of more than 25 percent of the announced rate must be justified.
- Customers should have the opportunity to share rides.
Consultation with the industry
“In the coming weeks I will work out these principles in consultation with all stakeholders,” says Pascal Smet. “I am confident that we will succeed with this plan to give the Brussels taxis a good and profitable future in which customer care and service are key. At the same time, we can ensure that technological innovation also means real progress for all, without lapsing into situations of social dumping.”
- At the press conference Mobility minister Smet took his time to unfold and explain his new plans.