Yesterday tech company Uber announced it would pull the plug on the mobile UberPOP-app in The Netherlands. With this app, customers could order a ride from a private individual who would drive the customer in his own private car. From Friday November 20 at 12.00 hundreds of UberPop drivers can no longer offer the service, according to a press statement released by Uber.
To what extent this step is purely tactical, still remains to be seen. In many other countries in Europe (France, Germany, Spain and Belgium), the UberPOP-service had already been stopped, in some cases (like Belgium and Germany) to be replaced by the legal version of UberX – the UberPOP variant used in the US. In Europe UberX uses licensed drivers and vehicles. Outside Europe UberX continues as a ridesharing-service.
According to Uber, getting rid of UberPOP in The Netherlands should enable “a constructive dialogue on modernization of existing laws and regulations”. By stopping the service in The Netherlands Uber hopes to better establish a dialogue with the politicians and regulators. All UberPOP drivers have been offered support by Uber to become UberX- or Uber Black-driver. It is expected that the enthusiasm for this step will be limited, as there are high costs involved in meeting legal obligations for taxi drivers. The – legal – platforms UberX and Uber Black make use of drivers with a proper licence.
In its political and public relations campaign, Uber refers to two motions passed in Dutch parliament in which the ministry of Infrastructure and Environment is called upon “to modernise legislation and to allow mobility experiments in large cities.” Uber says that the ministry intends to withdraw or simplify a number of taxi regulations by January 1, 2016, which make it more difficult for entrants to the market to become taxi driver. By dropping UberPop in The Netherlands, the company hopes to enable “further steps towards sharing ambitions in the taxi market in such a way that it guarantees safety, reliability and affordability”. The ‘self-regulation’ Uber is aiming at, has so far not proved very successful in the US.
In April this year the Dutch Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the UberPOP service. The prosecution decided to do so after a judgment by the Amsterdam magistrate on April 17. Three UberPOP drivers were fined € 1,500 each for transporting people without a valid (taxi) permit. In December 201 another magistrate had already ruled that Uber had to stop UberPOP. Uber then announced it would continue UberPOP.
Trade unions, the trade association KNV Taxi, regulators and the taxi industry reacted positively, but wondered why it had taken so long to remove this illegal service. The CNV trade union stated: “Taxi drivers will be cheering at this news. It is an end to the illegal practices that threaten their jobs,” commented Miriam Pieters for CNV Vakmensen. It also maintained that there are enough problems in the taxi industry even without UberPOP. “We do our best to maintain paid work as much as possible. Stopping UberPOP got rid of one of the problems in the taxi world. But for how long?”
Pieters: “It is outright displacement of jobs, by people who see the taxi work especially as a nice extra income and who are not qualified to work as a taxi driver. UberPOP customers do not know who’s driving them and how the liability in an accident is settled. The court has given a clear opinion on this: what UberPOP does is illegal. It is good that Uber has finally given up on UberPOP. “
• UberPOP is not only banned and gone in The Netherlands, but also in several other European countries.