Belgian court gives Uber 21 days to end UberPop service

A Belgian court has confirmed a ban on controversial ride-sharing app UberPop, giving it 21 days to close operations in Brussels or risk massive penalties.

UberPop has been given 21 days to close its Brussels operation, or it risks massive penalties as a result of a ban imposed by a Belgian court.

A spokesman for Uber confirmed the decision from the Brussels court on Thursday, which followed a ban decided in April 2014 that the company ignored.

"We are looking at the implications of this ruling which hurts hundreds of our driver-partners and tens of thousands of people who have come to rely on UberPop to get around Brussels safely and affordably," Uber's Filip Nuytemans told AFP.

UberPop is a service offered by Uber, which puts customers in touch with private drivers at prices lower than those of traditional taxis. The European offering that has launched in capital cities around the continent currently has a valuation of some $50 billion.

Licensed cabbies say the less regulated service is endangering their jobs by flooding the market with low-cost drivers.

Nuytemans said Uber's more expensive service UberX, which requires drivers to be professionally licensed, was not affected by the ban.

Allegedly, Uber anticipated the Brussels ban and launched its UberX service in the city earlier this month.

Across the border, France's highest court on Tuesday confirmed the ban is a huge setback for the company that sees the country as a strategic market.

Previously, protests against UberPop have turned violent in France, as taxi drivers burned cars and blocked access to airports and train stations.

Around 2,800 cabbies took part in the strike in June, with more than 30 blockades nationwide, including the access points to Paris' Charles De Gaulle and Orly airports. Police eventually fired tear gas and broke up the protest on the western stretch of motorway, clearing burning tyres from the road that rings the capital, but there were later attempts to stall traffic.

"UberPop is illegal. It's the law, and it must be respected. We get the feeling the government is letting this happen," Rene Pierre-Jean, a member of the CGT union had said.

At the time, Uber claimed to have had 400,000 UberPop users in France, with the protest a result of Uber drivers not paying taxes, not holding appropriate insurance, and not undergoing the 250 hours of training that is mandatory for cab drivers in the country.

UberPop was deemed to be illegal in France in January, but has continued operating regardless.

Brussels is not the first city to toy with banning Uber services; Dutch judges in December banned UberPop from taking bookings via its smartphone app and threatened the company with fines of up to $123,000, saying that unlicensed drivers were breaking the law.

A defiant Uber reacted in a statement saying it "will continue to offer UberPop".

Authorities in Denmark and Norway have also filed complaints against Uber.

Earlier this month, the São Paulo City Council voted in favour of a bill that will restrict the operation of Uber-like services in the city. The vote follows months of wrangling between the startup and the union representing taxi drivers in the city.

In July, Shanghai local authorities increased fines on both drivers and companies providing ridesharing services, after China imposed a ban on private cars using Uber earlier this year.

As a result, drivers in Shanghai who utilise Didi Kuaidi and Uber to provide taxi services face penalties and a 10,000 yuan fine, as well as the suspension of their driver's licence for up to six months. The taxi-hailing app platforms will be fined 100,000 yuan for each case as well.

In India, the government suspended Uber's services in New Delhi late last year, following the alleged rape of a passenger. It resumed operations six weeks later in January after securing a taxi licence, and relaunched with new built-in safety features in its app, including a panic SOS button. Charges against the Indian driver have since been dropped.

Across the globe, Uber has angered traditional taxi operators who say it represents unfair competition because Uber drivers can flout the rules and restrictions that regulate the professionals.

With AAP