File picture: Damir Sagolj / Reuters.
Johannesburg - Metered taxi operators on Sunday night welcomed the announcement by the provincial government that the Uber taxi industry would be regulated.

Gauteng Metered Taxi Council general secretary Hendrick Ndou said it was commendable that provincial stakeholders had finally stepped in and required that all Uber operators be known.

It also emerged on Sunday that Pretoria had witnessed more sporadic incidents of territorial violence between Uber and metered taxi operators with 204 attacks, most of them in Hatfield.

Joburg followed with 86 and there were four in Ekurhuleni.

Premier David Makhura said this escalation of violence between the two service providers was threatening peace and stability in the province.

Crimes committed include murder, attempted murder, arson, assault, theft, robbery, hijacking of vehicles and verbal intimidation.

Special task force

Makhura announced the establishment of a special police task force to bring the situation under control. He said he had also appointed a special cabinet committee tasked with ensuring that the taxi industry was integrated into the broader public transport system.

“The metered taxi service is regulated by section 66 of the National Land Transport Act 2009. The legislation is being amended to accommodate e-hailing services to legally allow for the registration of technology-based public transport operations,” he said.

“In the interim, the closest form of legislated and regulated public transport for Uber is that of the metered taxi service. This will legitimise their operations in the province and place them on an equally regulated footing with other public transport operators.

“Prior to 2007, the metered taxi industry was not registered on the Registration Administration System. The system is dedicated to the minibus taxi industry to enable their regulation and capturing of routes.”

There were 2909 meter taxi operators on the records of the Department of Roads and Transport, most not compliant, he said. There were about 500 metered taxis with permits since 2007.

“Between May 2016 and July 2017, the department received 2321 applications for the operating licences from Uber partner drivers. Of these, 624 have been approved and a further 209 are pending approval,” Makhura said.

'Fair playing ground'

In reaction, Ndou said their call had always been for all transport operators to be licensed and subjected to the same requirements metered taxis had been complying with.

He conceded that although focus had been squarely on app-based operators being regulated to ensure a fair playing ground for all, they too had been guilty of non-compliance.

“We are not against competition; all we want are equal opportunities. Let people use the service they want to. But let us all be subjected to the same licensing requirements and regulations,” Ndou said.

“If metered taxis are to be restricted to certain areas, then so too should Uber be, unless it is a drop-off or pre-arranged trip.”

Announcing the intervention, Makhura said this would be instituted immediately to avoid the situation getting to a point where “hits” were carried out.

“We will work closely to come up with a multi-sectoral intervention that will be rolled out in the entire province to bring this violence to an end and ensure no additional lives are lost.

“In this regard a special police task force will be established to bring the situation under control. Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula has committed to support the province in this regard.”

Makhura said a committee would be established that engaged extensively with the industry whenever there were challenges.

“In the meantime, I would like to urge all law enforcement agencies to impound those operators that are engaged in acts of violence; where life and limb is threatened we will not sit back. We will work tirelessly to end the violence,” he said.

Makhura said all operators of public transport should comply with efforts aimed at clamping down on illegal operators.

To date, a total of 66 vehicles had been impounded, 43 of these Uber, eight meter taxis and 15 minibus taxis, he said.

“We have increased police visibility in Tshwane, at OR Tambo International Airport and in Sandton, the identified hotspots for Uber and metered taxi violence.”

Low number of arrests

However, he expressed concern about the low number of arrests, with more than 166 cases reported and only 28 suspects arrested.

Transport MEC Ismail Vadi said: “Our main concern is that if we don’t have a list of Uber drivers, it will make it difficult to track down people with criminal records or criminal intentions should something happen.”

He said their drive for all transport modes to be regulated and registered was not with the intention of making it difficult for Uber drivers specifically, as historically metered taxis had also not been compliant.

Vadi noted they were aware that licence requirements stating that a car should not be older than 10 years were seen as discriminatory to metered taxi operators.

He added: “There will be no cut-off period for transport operators to comply with regulation requirements. Our main priority is to assist those who want to comply and make an honest living.”

Makhura concurred and added that instead of the archaic requirements which were often problematic and discriminatory, they wanted to rather focus on the cars being roadworthy in order to avoid unfairly discriminating against operators with older vehicles.

The Star