About 100 fed-up Uber drivers demonstrated outside Cape Town International Airport on Wednesday. Picture: David Ritchie / African News Agency
Cape Town  - Chaos erupted outside the city's airport on Wednesday as angry Uber drivers protested because they were barred from operating at the ­airport by metered taxi drivers, who they said intimidated them and incited violence against them.

“They forced us to not come in the airport, and harassed us and damage our cars,” Uber driver Themba Skiejana said. He said the situation had escalated so much that drivers were fearful for their safety. Uber drivers confronted metered taxi drivers on Wednesday but were stopped by police outside the airport and told to leave.

At the centre of Uber drivers’ frustration and anger is the delay in issuing operating permits by the city council. Uber drivers said the reason they haven’t been issued permits was because there was a huge backlog. Many of them have been waiting for almost four years for their permits to be issued.

Over the weekend, 74 Uber vehicles were impounded .

Mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said: “Between July 2017 and mid-April 2018, the Traffic Service department impounded 2426 public transport vehicles - an average of 269 a month. 

"Of these, 71 percent of drivers did not have an operating licence, and the rest were operating in contravention of their operating licences."

He said that the city council had been engaging with the provincial government to expedite the new provincial traffic legislation that would allow for more effective enforcement strategies.

“We need to hit errant operators where it hurts, and that is permanent impoundment," he said. “But currently the law does not allow for this, and the city simply enforces the law, we do not make it,” he said.

But Uber drivers said that made life more complicated for them to work.

Uber driver Kirk Crouch said: “They have not given us permits; now the traffic department has put pressure on us. They are impounding our vehicles, and to get a vehicle out costs R9000.

He said he believed this was orchestrated by the taxi bosses.

The taxi drivers think we are taking their clients,” he said, "but Uber is doing absolutely nothing. What we are doing is just taking a stand, because if other taxi associations can do it, why can’t we? The problem is no one is standing with us.”

Mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, Brett Herron, rejected claims there was a backlog.

“The city is only the planning authority," he said. "We agreed to support an initial 1035 e-hailing licences in 2015. However, we have struggled to get Uber operating partners to take up these initial 1035 licences.”

He said there were various reasons why operating licences weren’t issued, which included SA Revenue Service documentation not being in order, home affairs documentation not being in order and vehicle ownership not being in order, among others.

Uber spokesperson Samantha Allenberg said the issuing of permits to all in the industry continued to be delayed as there was a backlog which needed to be sorted out urgently.

“We respect drivers and understand they are frustrated," Allenberg said. “However, this needs to be solved through open dialogue and not by disruptions to a commuter’s day.”

Cape Argus