A customer uses the Uber cellphone app. Picture: BHEKI RADEBE

Parliament - Law changes were on the cards to cater for new internet based ride-sharing services like Uber, Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport heard on Tuesday.

Briefing MPs on complaints that Uber and similar technology companies were left to operate in the country unregulated, the national transport department’s Sipho Dibakwane said they were currently in the process of amending the National Land Transport Act.

“It is possible to actually comply to the National Land Transport Act and our view is that currently as a department our attempt can be to see how best we can, through regulations, control the technology and the driver operators, but one thing we not going to do is we are not going to control the facilitating company which is Uber in this case,” Dibakwane said.

“We will continue to engage with Uber and also other players.”

He said the current law only defines service providers and commuters, but not facilitating companies like Uber.

“There has been other players that have come in such as Snappcab, Zapacab which in the main have indicated to us moving forward there will be a proliferation of such [operators] and as such we need a regulatory environment that would be properly classified and regulated in order to prevent abuses as it were,” said Dibakwane.

Earlier, Uber sub-Saharan Africa executives briefed MPs on their technology and the hurdles they encountered operating in South Africa.

“Current regulation doesn’t necessarily cater for how the Uber partners operate and that’s one of the main reasons as to why we here today,” Uber sub-Saharan Africa’s Alon Lits told MPs.

“In terms of the issue around responsibility between drivers and Uber, who really holds responsibility? The drivers who have access to the platform have a professional drivers permit. In addition to that, those vehicles are insured so that if the individual is involved in an accident in a vehicle that was booked using the Uber platform, they will have a claim against that individual’s insurance. They will have a claim against the Road Accident Fund.”

Asked about clashes with metre taxi operators, Lits said they were in discussions with industry players to resolve disputes.

“A misconception is that we are cutting out competition. It is an open technology platform,” he said.

“It’s open to existing transport providers. In fact, in Cape Town there are huge number of existing metre taxi operators who use Uber to supplement their business, so they continue to operate in the way that they did before we entered the market, but they use Uber when they are not busy to supplement their income and earn more, so the technology is definitely open and any barriers which currently exist we are looking to remove.”

In South Africa, Uber has bumped up against authorities with several of its partner drivers’ cars having been impounded for operating without a metre taxi licence.

Uber claims it does not fit into the category of a metre taxi service.

Several countries have banned Uber completely, or have suspended some of its low cost services.