Ride-sharing service Uber has suspended its activities in Bulgaria but says that it has not abandoned the market.
The temporary suspension follows a September 28 ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court upholding large financial penalties imposed by the Competition Protection Commission against Uber for what the commission said were unfair trade practices.
According to the commission, the court ruling meant that the companies operating Uber had been deprived of the right to conduct the service until they bring their operations in line with the requirements of Bulgarian legislation.
The Uber service came to Bulgaria in December 2014 and has gathered more than 40 000 users.
“With great regret, I would like to tell you that the Uber X service in Sofia has been temporarily stopped”, said Dimitar Radukov, Uber manager for Bulgaria. Sofia was the only place in Bulgaria where the Uber service was available.
“We deeply believe that Sofia needs such a service and we have not abandoned the Sofia market, on the contrary. We are looking for options to stay and offer our services,” he told local media.
Uber allows a driver with a new car to carry passengers for a fee – even without an operating licence, professional driver’s licence or registration as a legal entity.
Uber in Bulgaria earlier complained to the European Commission about the actions against it, saying that the ruling by the Competition Protection Commission violate EU law.
By the early afternoon of October 6, a petition in support of Uber and against their services in Sofia being stopped had gathered more than 8500 signatures.
The petition to the Bulgarian authorities calls for a change to the regulations to meet new technologies and innovation.
The company said that more choice was a huge benefit to society as a whole, even if it created difficulties for existing competing interests.
“Tens of thousands of people already have used Uber as a safe, reliable and affordable way to travel in the city. The benefits of our ride-sharing services were recently confirmed by a study of the Active Consumers association,” the company said. “The results are further evidence that Uber is the better alternative in price and, what is more important – quality,” the petition says.
“We live in a new world driven by technology. Regulations must evolve to enable it to take advantage of the effectiveness of innovation. There is a clear need for new rules to reflect the technical development of the 21st century,” the petition says.
Meanwhile, on October 6, Bulgaria’s Parliament approved the second and final reading of amendments to the Road Transport Act, saying that taxi services may be rendered only by registered carriers with certificates of registration.
The amendments deleted a previous provision that such services could be rendered by those who operate on behalf of a registered carrier, but on his own account.
Media reports noted that previously, some took advantage of this latter provision as a loophole through which to escape criminal responsibility.. They transferred much of the responsibility on drivers themselves because they were franchises. Now this will not be possible.
During debate on the amendments, the issue was raised about whether to ban services such as Uber.
The chairperson of Parliament’s transport committee, Grozdan Karadzhov, said that Uber had never had registration certificates and so the changes in the law did not apply to it.
He said that if Uber wants to return to the Bulgarian market, it would have to meet the minimum requirements of the Bulgarian legislation and to register as a taxi service.
Karadzhov said he believed the future is something like Uber platforms, but they also must respect the laws. He said that the transport committee is open to discussions on the topic.