Johannesburg - Metered-taxi drivers have threatened to burn Uber drivers’ cars in protest aganst what they see as unfair competition.
This after taxi drivers tried to attack Gauteng transport MEC Ismail Vadi and at least one Uber driver during a protest on Monday at the department’s building on Diagonal Street against the issuing operating licences for Uber taxis.
Ruben Mzayiya, a driver at Gauteng Cabs, said: “We do not have a problem with the competition. But we must have fair competition.”
The protesters confronted the MEC as he tried to exit the building following a media conference announcing the new licensing regulations. One of the groups of men pushed over the Roads and Transport banners that had been on display, as well as the table where the MEC had addressed the media.
Mzayiya, an organiser of the protest, said Uber employed mostly foreigners, while taxi services were local and employed mainly South Africans. He said the government unfairly favoured Uber.
“Taxis are not being cared for by the government,” he said. “There are no workshops, no nothing for us. They put Uber on a pedestal.”
Mzayiya accused Uber of benefiting only top executives, not the “people on the ground”.
Tensions between the provincial government and metered-taxi operators have been simmering since Uber was launched in Johannesburg in September 2013. As the mayhem threatened to escalate into violence on Monday, security had to intervene and escort Vadi out of the building.
The police later confirmed that he had left the premises, while his department confirmed that the MEC was safe.
After speaking to protesters in the building’s entrance, another man was attacked and chased out of the building and down the street after he told them he was an Uber driver. Officers from the Johannesburg metro police department, its tactical unit and other officers blockaded the street and issued tickets to drivers for illegally parking their vehicles.
The police did not at first allow drivers to move their vehicles and brought in a tow-truck to forcibly remove them, but as the protesters dispersed, they allowed cars to leave.
“Let them shoot us,” one protester shouted. “Let them kill us like Marikana!”
The aggrieved metered-taxi operators said they would protest until Gauteng Premier David Makhura arrived and listened to their demands. Makhura was, however, quick to condemn the protest action and intimidation of Vadi.
“We will not be deterred from building an integrated, affordable and modernised transport system by any groups or individuals who want to use intimidation and violence to put their perspective across,” Makhura said.
At the briefing, Vadi said Uber drivers would be required to register as public transport operators within 30 days or their vehicles would be impounded. He said 116 licensing applications had been submitted so far, 20 of which were being processed on Monday.
Lebo Smith, chairwoman of the Gauteng Provincial Regulatory Entity, said formally registering drivers would help hold them accountable and enhance Uber’s service.
She said Parliament would hear arguments on Tuesday for proposed amendments to update the National Land Transport Act’s rules about metered-taxi services.
Uber general manager for sub-Saharan Africa Alon Lits said: “There are about 4000 Uber drivers across the country, with more than 2500 in Gauteng.”
He said last week that the company wanted to hire 15 000 more drivers in the next two years.
Although the changes would not have an impact on Uber’s everyday operations, Lits said: “Uber sees this as an extremely positive step forward. Any ambiguity that previously existed is lifted.”
Vadi said the government had a responsibility to protect all transportation providers, and suggested metered-taxi services emulate aspects of Uber’s business model.
“Technology is changing,” he said, “and the world is changing.” - The Star, additional reporting by ANA