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Thursday, 18 December 2014

The untolerable ignorance and arrogance of Uber: the legal verdicts of Dutch and Spanish justices are treated as a motivation to further break the Dutch and Spanish taxi laws, instead of obeying them

I reject your reality and substitute my own

Uber is an American online company, which offers taxi services through the internet in the United States and far beyond. Their services are  (partially) based on the deployment of amateur taxi-drivers, who bring their own car and are willing to transport passengers against a certain fee, but don’t have an official  taxi license.

A worldwide deployed app, called UberPop, is used to bring demand and supply for taxi-services together: initially in the United States and now all over the world, including EU countries like The Netherlands and Spain. For every taxi-trip, arranged by Uber(Pop), Uber gets a slice of the pie: a fee of 20% per trip, in order to cover its expenses and make a profit for the organization.

If you have to believe the internet community, Uber is ‘about the biggest thing since the invention of sliced, white bread’…, or something like that. The bold concept behind this organization, which liberates the official taxi market and arranges taxi-trips all over the world for millions and millions of travelers, as well as the impressive fees per trip, deliver unspoken promises of vast revenues and profits in years to come. Therefore the value of this company has been estimated to be in the billions of dollars and Uber seems well on its way to conquer the earth… and far beyond.

There is only one problem: in many countries – including The Netherlands and Spain – it is explicitely prohibited to offer taxi-trips, when these are executed by amateur taxi-drivers without a proper license and/or proper insurances. Taxi licenses have traditionally been a cash cow for many cities and communities, resulting in the fact that many taxi-drivers in The Netherlands have paid a small fortune to acquire such a license.

When a third party like Uber actively spurs drivers without a taxi license to deploy taxi services with their privately owned car in The Netherlands, this leads to an illegal activity called ‘snorren’ (roughly translated: purring (of a cat)).

‘Snorren’ can be penalized with a large fine of €1500 per offence. On top of that: especially in large cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the legal taxi drivers have their own ways to deal with illegal taxi-drivers in their city…

The official penalties are for both illegal and uninsured person’s transport (most insurance companies have an explicit exclusion clause for illegal taxi-driving) and for spoiling the market for legal taxi-drivers, who often paid a massive amount for their license.

That is the law in The Netherlands and Spain and probably many other countries. And people and companies have to stick to the law. Except for… Uber!

Uber does not care that its actions and taxi-services – especially the usage of the UberPop application– are not allowed in many countries! “Well, who gives a rat’s behind about the opinion of those local, hillbilly judges?! We don’t!”

Ten days ago, a Dutch justice presented his verdict, with respect to the challenged legality of Uber and especially the UberPop app in The Netherlands. The verdict was crystal clear:  Uber offered illegal taxi-trips to Dutch customers via its UberPop application, while using illegal taxi-drivers without a proper license and insurance in the process. For future offences against the Dutch law, Uber had to pay a penalty per offence to a maximum amount of €100,000.

A clear and unambiguous verdict, I would say…

Still, Uber had a totally different view on this verdict, in one of the most flabbergasting interviews ever, between a reporter of BNR News Radio in The Netherlands and a representative of Uber’s European headquarters in Amsterdam, Niek van Leeuwen.

Because of the shocking ignorance and arrogance of Uber with respect to the Dutch law, I print this interview nearly integrally:

Voice-over of radio station: Uber stated that it would continue offering taxi-services in The Netherlands via UberPop, executed by taxi-drivers without a legal license. By doing so, the American company is violating a verdict of a Dutch justice of the Court of Appeal for Businesses. The service that Uber offers is violating the Dutch law, but the company accepts the fact that it is penalized for these violations with a fine of maximally €100,000. Uber will just continue offering taxi services in The Netherlands, by taxi-drivers without a proper license.

Laurens Boven, reporter of BNR: I am speaking from the European headquarters of Uber in Amsterdam. Niek van Leeuwen of Uber: Am I standing on the floor of a criminal organization?

Niek van Leeuwen, spokesperson of Uber: By no means. You are standing in the building of an organization, which tries to improve public transport, by making it better, cheaper and easier.

Laurens Boven: The justice of the Court of Appeal for Businesses had a different view about that. Let’s listen to him:

Justice: Taxi-drivers without a taxi license, who transport passengers via UberPop while receiving payments, are violating the People’s Transport Law. As Uber earns money with these transports, the company itself is violating this law.

Van Leeuwen: Today’s verdict says something about the penalty decree. However, the verdict does not say anything about the legal treatment with respect to the foundation of Uber and whether Uber is a legal transport option or not.

Boven: In my opinion the justice states very clearly that Uber, as well as its chauffeurs, have been violating the law, by offering taxi transport without a taxi license.

Van Leeuwen: That is a preliminary verdict. Now a legal procedure will follow with respect to the foundation of Uber. However, what is much more important for us, is the discussion in the Second Chamber of Dutch parliament. The MP’s there should recognize that Uber is working according to one of the pillars of the Dutch taxi law: more market-like circumstances, better quality and lower prices. That makes it so important that more modern legislation is introduced overhere.

Boven: That is a political story. In the meantime, the justice has spoken with respect to the current taxi law and he has decided that Uber violates this law.

Van Leeuwen: The justice has decided that the inspection service can deploy a penalty decree. The justice did not judge about the foundation of Uber and whether it is an illegal transport solution or not.

Boven: You have to pay a penalty. You already stated that you will continue with UberPop. Are you going to pay this penalty?

Van Leeuwen: When this non-compliance penalty is set for Uber, we will pay it. Eventually, the legal treatment regarding the foundations of Uber will point out, whether Uber is a legal transport solution or not. When it is indeed legal, the penalty money can be returned to us. Until then we persevere in our service delivery.

Boven: You want a political discussion in parliament about taxi services like Uber. How big will the support in the parliament be, now that a justice has judged that you are actually violating the Dutch laws?

Van Leeuwen: What we see is that in every city where we introduce UberPop, this causes both innovation and resistance. Eventually, all legislators see the advantages. Also in The Netherlands, the legislators will see that Uber takes care of the pillars of the taxi law: more market, beter quality and lower prices. Eventually, the legislation will follow.

Boven: So the legal road ahead is not so important?

Van Leeuwen: We find it much more important that the legislation, which originates from 2000 in The Netherlands, wil be modernized and that innovation is not halted, but endorsed.

Especially the answers of Uber’s Niek van Leeuwen, which I printed in red and bold, remind me of Mythbuster Adam Savage’s famous oneliner: I reject your reality and substitute my own.  

His words sounded like: I didn’t accept the verdict of the justice and I didn’t want to understand it at all. Instead, I am spinning his verdict around until it seems that it was just a simple, non-descript little rejection of a teeny-weeny offense of the taxi law by Uber and not a rockhard condemnation in response to deliberate violation of Dutch laws.

The justice did not say ANYTHING about Uber itself and I do believe that he is in fact a Uber-fan by heart, who is currently still in the closet, waiting for the right moment to come out. For his own good, I simply ignore this stupid justice and set my money on the Dutch MP’s instead, who are more willing to listen to my story.

And so Uber continued in the days after this interview…

The company is going to pay the penalties that its drivers receive and thus it deliberately takes the risk that its drivers will transport people uninsured, because of the exclusion clause that most insurance companies have for illegal,  paid transport of people. And when something goes terribly wrong? Well, sh*t happens!

Also in Spain, where the UberPop app and the Uber way of working have been explicitely forbidden by the Spanish justices, the company continues with its actions as if nothing has happened. The following snippets come from the newspaper Trouw:

Taxi service Uber will continue to offer its services in Spain, in spite of a prohibition that a Spanish justice has set on Tuesday, 9 December. The American company announced this news tonight (December 9 - EL).

The justice in Madrid prohibited the UberPop app, which brings customers and taxi-drivers together. The taxi guild of Madrid asked the justice to prohibit Uber in a preliminary case, until a definitive verdict has been set with respect to the services of the company. Drivers without a taxi license can get in touch with customers, through the UberPop app. These customers often pay much less than in a regular taxi.

According to the justice, the problem is that these drivers don’t have a taxi license. This is regarded as false competition of these drivers with authorized, licensed drivers.

And that Uber means business in The Netherlands, became clear today. Uber is going to lure new drivers through a €100 starter’s premium for rookies. It also offered to pay all the €1500 penalties that its drivers collect, while violating the Dutch taxi law.

The whole article behind this last link is a clear demonstration of the ‘f*ck you’-culture that is maintained by Uber in the European countries and abroad; a blatant testimony of the fact that Uber does not care about legislation in these countries.

Of course, it is a fact that quite a lot of people have a couple of (justified) agonies against the official taxi services in the various Dutch and European cities and that not all taxi drivers maintain the best service and the best price possible towards their customers.

Nevertheless, these taxidrivers often invested heavily in their taxi license and in a luxury car (Mercedes or BMW) and they often needed to buy themselves in in a taxi organization, thus loading a lot of debt on their shoulders. Further, these taxi-drivers pay quite some taxes on their earnings.

These people don’t deserve a competition that does not play against the same rules as they do. That would mean that there is no level playing field for them.

Besides that: although I have some sympathy for the concept behind Uber and UberPop, I am disgusted by the idea that this company violates the Dutch and Spanish laws, simply because they can afford to do so. 

In answer to the aforementioned question of Laurens Boven, I would dare to say that Uber indeed operates as a criminal organization.

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