While violence flared in Johannesburg over what metered taxi drivers call “unfair” competition, Durban has remained calm, despite the metered-taxi operators in the city also claiming the app-operated transport service is “killing” their business as it is cheaper and operates unlawfully.
Uber maintains it does not employ drivers, saying it operates as a technology company that connects drivers with clients and that it is the responsibility of the driver to comply with the rules.
However, the department of labour has refuted this claim, on the basis of a ruling by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration last week.
“The department acknowledges and applauds the CCMA ruling that Uber drivers are the employees of the company," said department spokesman Teboho Thejane. “It means that any person who falls in that category is an employee and therefore fully covered in terms of labour legislation."
'Freedom and flexibility'
Uber Africa spokeswoman Samantha Allenberg said the company was taking the decision on review.
“Thousands of South Africans choose to use Uber and other similar apps to provide transport services to their passengers," she said, "because they are totally free to choose if, when and where they drive with no shifts or minimum hours.
“The vast majority of drivers who use Uber tell us it is because of this freedom and flexibility they signed up to use the Uber app," she added. "We look forward to having this ruling reviewed before the Labour Court.”
Meanwhile, the government is finalising the National Land Transport Act Amendment Bill, which is currently before Parliament. The changes will include e-hailing (app/internet) public transport services, ensuring that all taxi operators are regulated and comply with the law, which includes having operating licences.
Durban has, however, had a moratorium on new taxi licences in place since 2010, due to over-trading, which means any Uber driver applying to the eThekwini Transport Authority for a taxi permit would be automatically refused.
'If you can’t beat them, join them.'
Transport authorities in Durban have said that Uber vehicles should have permits to operate. While they await the government intervention, Durban metered-taxi operators said violence would not resolve the problems and said of Uber: “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
Many have made the switch, or are doubling up their vehicles as both Uber and traditional metered taxis.
An uMhlanga meter and Uber operator said: “I have been in the metered taxi industry for 15 years; I used to make a good profit and paid my drivers and lived off the income I made with cabs but it all changed when Uber arrived.
“They are charging less and taking all our clients. As a result I started making a huge loss. After carefully weighing my options, I sold my vans and left only one to continue operating as a meter taxi. I bought new sedans and registered with Uber six months ago,” he said.
“People believe in Uber, say it’s safe and easy to request transport via the app," he explained. "Uber is easily accessible as drivers don’t have parking points, they are everywhere.”
Since joining Uber, he said he was no longer operating at a loss.
'Be your own boss'
Another cab operator, who has also registered with the e-hailing service agreed: “Uber is charging half the price of what we are charging. You can fight them but it won’t help. As things stands most people prefer Uber. As a result we have to embrace change so we can also make a living.
“What’s good about Uber is that it gives drivers an opportunity to be their own bosses instead of being employed by someone.”
While Uber has also allowed meter-taxi drivers to be registered with them, there are many who are not happy about Uber’s policy of taking 25 percent on all trips. Uber drivers said they made about R6000 on a busy week, while metered-taxi drivers claimed they made about R200 a week since the e-hailing service was launched.
National Taxi Council KwaZulu-Natal spokesman Mandla Mzelemu said they were “engaging” Uber and would not clarify claims they had partnered with it.
'Moratorium on new taxi permits'
eThekwini Transport Authority deputy head Mlungisi Wosiyana said a moratorium was put in place in 2010 to bar new operating permits being issued due to over-trading. Those with operating permits could renew and operate as Uber drivers, he said.
“Anyone operating public transport for commercial use must have an operating licence. It’s in the interest of commuters because vehicles must be roadworthy.
“Should the drivers not comply, the metro police will deal with them," he said. "It’s an arrest offence and they will be taken to court where justice will determine the fine.”
Allenberg said there were at least 4000 registered Uber vehicles in the country. She wouldn’t reveal the number of Uber drivers in Durban.
This week transport minister Joe Maswanganyi held talks with representative from Uber and metered taxis in Johannesburg; he said anyone who operated without a valid permit would face the full might of the law.
HOW TO BECOME AN UBER DRIVER
Before a driver is allowed on the Uber app, they first have to undergo a screening, including background and driving history checks and are required to have a Professional Driving Permit.
This means the driver has undergone police clearance in order to obtain this permit before they can join the Uber app as a driver.
Once they are on the app, Uber utilises a rating system as a way of encouraging mutual respect between drivers and the public. Each can rate the other on a five-star scale after a ride.
Uber is a technology company connecting riders with drivers, through a smartphone app.
It is available in 633 cities around the world, including Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria and Johannesburg.
Uber operates in 12 cities in sub-Saharan Africa including Nairobi, Mombasa, Lagos, Abuja, Kampala, Accra and Dar es Salaam.
Uber facilitated more than a million trips in South Africa in 2014, and two million in the first half of 2015.
Uber has pledged globally to enable a million economic opportunities for women by 2020.