But after two hours stuck in the gridlocked traffic and chaos on Johannesburg’s R24 highway, the pilot couldn’t make his flight.
He was just one of scores of motorists who missed their flights at OR Tambo International Airport as metered-taxi drivers embarked on an illegal protest, obstructing peak-hour traffic on the R21 and R24 highways.
“I ended up arriving 45 minutes after my flight had left,” Atkin said.
“Thankfully we have contingency plans in emergencies like this, and another pilot flew the plane.”
More than 60 metered-taxi drivers blocked major roads in Ekurhuleni, east of Johannesburg, protesting against the presence of mobile hailing service Uber in South Africa.
Atkin had no idea there was a protest on the highway, and assumed an accident had been holding up traffic. “But then it looked sinister when the cab drivers sort of parallel-parked on the road. Traffic was at a complete standstill.”
Some airline passengers in a last-ditch effort to catch flights even resorted to walking along the highway hauling their suitcases.
Stefan Brink was forced to fork out thousands to change his family’s tickets after they had missed their early morning flight to Cape Town.
“Our family left at 5.30am and got caught in the worst of it. We were warned to circle around, but then still got stuck on the tail-end of it. We missed final boarding call and were told to change our tickets.
“The earliest flight we could get was at 3pm as all the other flights were fully booked because of the Cycle Tour taking place this weekend.”
Metered-taxi drivers want Uber to be banned, claiming the service is not operating according to industry standards.
Mmamang Nkadimang, a member of the Uber task team established to kick Uber out of the market, said representatives had exhausted all avenues in the government, and were forced to strike.
“We want Uber to leave the country The government doesn’t protect us, metered-taxi drivers, and something needs to be done.”
It was possible that some taxi drivers would resort to violence should the government not intervene. “We have a lot of angry taxi drivers who may resort to doing something bad.”
Mmthunzi Mbokane, a metered-taxi driver who operates near OR Tambo International, said Uber’s arrival in the country had cost him dearly.
“I use to make around seven or eight trips a day, but since Uber has arrived, I only do one trip a day. I’m suffering. These days I only make about R200 a day Uber is taking all our jobs,” he said.
Mbokane insisted Uber needed to be regulated.
“If we were trained how to use an app, we could have competed with them. But we were given no warning whatsoever.
“Instead, they just arrived and invaded our space and have taken our business. It’s unacceptable. We’re happy to sit down with Uber to find a way forward because something needs to be done soon.”
Nkadimang said metered-taxi drivers tried to organise a meeting with Transport Minister Dipuo Peters yesterday, but her office cancelled the meeting at the eleventh hour.
“We were told she was sick and couldn’t make the meeting. We heard plenty of excuses. This shows that government is undermining us.”
Transport spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi said it was unfortunate that some metered- taxi operators resorted to anarchy.
“The department is committed to a speedy resolution of the matter as contained in the memorandum.
“However, we won’t tolerate acts of lawlessness as demonstrated by some metered-taxi operators.”
Meanwhile, Uber drivers gathered at the company’s head office in Parktown North to speak to management about their security fears after attacks by metered-taxi drivers.
Under the umbrella of The Movement they went on a go-slow, blocking the intersection of Seventh and Third avenues.
SAPS officers negotiated the reopening of the intersection.