Uber tax. Picture: Internet

Cape Town - Taxi company Uber, which uses a cellphone application to connect with customers, has come under scrutiny as 13 of its drivers had their vehicles impounded at the weekend.

The service has sparked international controversy, angering local taxi enterprises and raising questions over whether its operations are legal.

Uber spokeswoman Shaden Abdellatif confirmed on Sunday that 13 of its drivers' vehicles had been impounded by Cape Town's traffic services.

The city's executive director for safety and security, Richard Bosman, confirmed the vehicles had been impounded. He said some Uber drivers allowed their friends to operate as cab drivers and when traffic officials pulled them off, they could not produce the relevant documentation. He said he would issue a more detailed statement on Monday.

Abdellatif said: "To use the Uber platform, all drivers need to have a valid PDP, operator's card, roadworthy certificate and be commercially insured. We have our own secondary background check.

"We go beyond the legal requirements. We have also been working with regulators to speed up all the necessary licensing checks.

"We are taking this latest development very seriously. We will continue to work with relevant stakeholders to prove that Uber is helping to shape the future of mobility in a safe way. In the meantime, we will stand by our partner drivers and support them in any way possible."


Uber, which also came under fire for charging commuters up to 12 times the usual rate on New Year's Eve, has hit back, saying subscribers had a choice to confirm rides and pricing before boarding the taxis.

After New Year's celebrations last week, a slew of disgruntled Uber commuters took to social media to complain about the taxi company's pricing. Some commuters were charged thousands of rand compared with the few hundred they would pay on a normal day.

Nicky Rebelo was seething after his son Nicholas, 26, was charged R2800 for a 35km trip from Clifton to Muizenberg on New Year's Eve.

"My son was not of sober mind when he accepted the price surge and was therefore not aware of the fact that he was going to have his credit card debited to the tune of R2800."

"How can Uber justify ripping off young people who try to be responsible and not drink and drive? It's outrageous and I'd like to call on fellow South Africans to boycott Uber."

Toni Larkan, from Durban, also took to Facebook after being charged R1151 "for a 10-minute trip from Umhlanga to Umdloti (7-8km)".


But Uber spokeswoman Samantha Allenberg said the dynamic pricing was communicated to users.

"Dynamic pricing is communicated repeatedly to a user - and requires confirmation - before the user can request the trip. It helps ensure that reliability of choice and allows riders to have a choice rather than having no cars available at all."

Uber usually charged R7 a kilometre. According to Allenberg, Uber drivers were independent transporters not bound to exclusivity.

She said because Uber did not employ its own drivers, they had a choice of whether to operate or not at any particular day or time.

"During times of peak demand, when there are not enough drivers on the system, fares algorithmically increase so as to incentivise more drivers to come on to the platform and help reduce demand."

This happened on New Year's Eve and many Capetonians felt ripped off.

Publicist Allison Foat said she was charged R630 for an Uber X ride from Sea Point to Oranjezicht.

The normal fee for Uber X from Sea Point to Oranjezicht is R50.66, according to the Uber quote on their website.

Foat acknowledged that she had a choice to board the taxi and pay the hiked price, but she said she felt the taxi company manipulated their users.

"There is a confirmation of request that has the price of the ride, but for someone who has no cash on them, stranded at the corner of some place after having a glass to drink, you kind of have no choice but to conform."

Foat said she loved Uber and the service it rendered. But she said she felt being charged eight times the normal fee was ridiculous.

"I gave the go-ahead, but Uber manipulated the situation. They could have even charged us four times the normal fee and would have still made profit.

Foat's friend, Allison McGillan, wanted a ride from Uber from Sea Point to Hout Bay and received a quote of R2900 to R3684. The friend opted to use a regular cab and was charged R500.

Cape Town businesswoman Samantha James said her ride from Camps Bay to Somerset West cost her more than R5 000 for a 59km ride.

Cape Times, Cape Argus