Bulgaria’s Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) said on April 15 that it opened a formal investigation into the operations of taxi and car-sharing services firm Uber in the country’s capital city Sofia, on suspicion that the company was using unfair trade practices.
CPC’s decision to start the investigation was taken at the regulator’s meeting on April 8, but the notice was posted on its website on April 15. It targets two Dutch-registered companies – Uber BV, which offers customers the Uber mobile app, and Rasier Operations BV, which selects drivers for the UberX car-sharing service.
Uber launched the service in Sofia in December 2014, offering lower fares, which drew strong objections from taxi drivers and registered taxi companies. 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. The UberX service connects any driver with an acceptable car (as opposed to Uber’s taxi services, where the company hires the driver) to prospective customers.
In February, media reports in Bulgaria claimed that a number of state institutions were preparing checks into Uber’s operations in the country. 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.
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 logo from uber.com)