Bulgaria’s prosecutor’s office said on March 25 that it has issued orders to block the operation of Russian ride-sharing service Maxim in Bulgaria for a period of six months.
In its statement, the Supreme Administrative Prosecutor’s Office said that it ordered an investigation in May 2018 following reports that the company carried out unregulated taxi services. The checks were carried out by Bulgaria’s car administration agency, police and revenue agency officials.
The prosecutor’s office said that it forwarded the findings of its investigation to the Commission on Protection of Competition (CPC). The anti-trust regulator said earlier this month that it opened its own probe into Maxim’s operations.
Maxim has been operating in Bulgaria since 2014, offering ride-sharing services through a smartphone app, media reports have said, a business model identical to the better-known Uber, which made an attempt to enter the Bulgarian market but left after less than a year.
Uber announced the start of operations in Bulgarian capital Sofia in December 2014, prompting an immediate backlash from established taxi service companies, which claimed that they were subject to unfair competition because Uber provided a similar service without being subjected to stringent taxi regulations.
After launching a probe, CPC agreed with those claims and fined two Uber firms 200 000 leva in July 2015, prompting Uber to suspend its services in October 2015. (Uber’s brief foray into Bulgaria did have an impact, as several Sofia taxi firms launched apps to connect customers to available drivers.)
Maxim, despite offering the same type of ride-sharing service, escaped regulatory scrutiny until last year, when local media reported on the company’s operations. Although not immediate, as was the case with Uber, it also faced backlash from taxi drivers in Sofia, who organised a protest last week.
(Taxis at Sofia’s Central Railway Station. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)