Several Bulgarian state institutions, including transport and competition regulators, but also the country’s National Revenue Agency (NRA), were preparing checks into the operations of taxi and car-sharing services firm Uber in the country’s capital city Sofia, according to reports in Bulgarian media.
Mass circulation daily Trud quoted Tsvetlin Tsvetanov, head of the car administration agency of the transport ministry, saying that joint checks by the NRA, Interior Ministry and his agency would target all unregulated car transport services, which includes the one offered by Uber.
The company launched its UberX ride-sharing service in Sofia in December 2014. The service connects any driver with an acceptable car (as opposed to Uber’s taxi services, where the company hires the driver) to prospective customers.
Taxi companies have lodged complaints that Uber’s ride-sharing service was illegal because it did not acquire the necessary state transportation licences and did not subject its drivers to the same hiring requirements as taxi companies, which are mandated by law and include a psychological evaluation for all drivers.
Current regulations no longer allow traffic police to stop cars at random, so the car administration agency and interior ministry intend to use “mystery customers” to get evidence of “unregulated transport services”, according to the reports.
Uber drivers caught offering rides without a licence would face a fine of 1500 leva (about 767 euro) and would have their cars impounded for six months, which carried an additional financial penalty because they would be charged for the costs of impounding. Repeat offences would carry a fine of 6000 leva and an impounding of one year, the car administration agency has said.
Uber is already under investigation for alleged unfair practices by the competition regulator, and could face another investigation by the consumer protection commission, because the clause signed by Uber drivers to uphold the company’s good reputation could prevent them from testifying in court in case of any lawsuits, news website Offnews.bg reported.
Founded in San Francisco in 2009, Uber has expanded across the globe, but has proven controversial with city authorities and existing taxi-cab companies, which argue that Uber’s competitive pricing advantage comes from not being subject to existing regulations on the industry. In Sofia, legitimate cabs carry the same base fare as Uber (0.70 leva), but charge 0.79 leva/km during the day and 0.9 leva at night, compared to Uber’s 0.40 leva/km fee.
(Uber logo from uber.com)