Chaos, violence and bloodshed have marred relations between provincial meter taxi operators and Uber. The tensions are threatening to get worse if concerns raised with government are not addressed.
As part of the national #UberMustFall campaign, cab operators armed with various weapons assaulted others last Wednesday as they moved from Johannesburg to the department’s offices in Pretoria.
“We wanted others in the sector to join us, because our concerns are real and they affect all meter taxi operations,” operator Nkosiyena Dlakama said on Monday.
In the memorandum, they asked that Uber be suspended until such time all issues had been resolved. Among the issues were the fares charged for trips covering the same distance.
“Uber charges much less than us, because we operate as metered cabs and they as charter services. This means we charge per trip and they per person,” said Dlakama, of Centurion. “The playing field is not level and while we welcome competition, we will not accept the current scenario because it is unfair.”
The call to remove Uber or to make sure it operated with the same permit as other operators has resounded across the country since the App cabs were introduced in 2013.
Uber operators have been unwelcome in taxi ranks and areas such as the Gautrain stations, where they mainly operate.
Incidents of violence against and by them have been reported, including hijackings, kidnappings and the alleged rape of passengers by Uber drivers. The charges against Uber drivers have been labelled smear campaigns to discredit and make them unpopular.
The march was marked by chaos as protesters, some allegedly armed with knobkerries threatened their counterparts who refused to participate. The windows and windscreens of some Uber cars were smashed in and the keys of others snatched by meter taxi operators.
Gauteng police spokesman Captain Kay Makhubela said a case of malicious damage to property had been opened against meter taxi operators.
However, no arrests have been made yet.
“A case has been opened against a group of taxi drivers who broke the windows of Uber taxis and also flattened their tyres last week," she said. “We do not know the motive behind the war, but we will investigate the matter.”
The meter taxi operators said what they wanted was simple and could easily be resolved.
“Our request is simple; we just want the department to stop the App operators from working until we have resolved the differences between our people and Uber drivers,” secretary at the Gauteng Meter Taxi Council Hendrick Ndou said.
The protest had nothing to do with competition; they wanted things to be done in a legal manner, he said.
“We are not afraid of competition as long as you compete with us legally. We run our businesses in a legal way,” he said. The fact that Uber was introduced as a charter service which dealt with organised transport and then later announced as meter taxis was unlawful, they said.
“It has been a while now that we have expected Uber to consult us and other relevant structures like the Meter Taxi Association in the region, on how they will operate. But to our surprise we have not been contacted and there is no legal way they can operate like us without our input and knowledge,” Ndou explained.
That they operated like meter taxis was illegal and had to be fixed.
“Of course they can operate like we do, but they must fix their fare guide and get the right permits to do so,” the Centurion Meter Taxi Association said. Ndou denied any knowledge of the reported violence against Uber taxi drivers.
In their memorandum, operators also demanded the immediate removal of Uber and Tuk-Tuk cabs until all parties had resolved the matters and reached an understanding.
The Gauteng Meter Taxi Association had given the department 14 days to respond to the demands.
Ndou said the decision on the way forward if there was no satisfactory response, would be in the hands of meter taxi operators. The department has yet to respond to questions on the situation.