War has been declared on online taxi service Uber, with metered taxi operators intimidating drivers and passengers and threatening to slow traffic nationally in protest.
Yesterday, several Gauteng passengers were physically and verbally assaulted as they tried to catch Uber taxis in Johannesburg.
The Times witnessed several drivers of metered taxis intimidating Uber drivers and clients.
In Cape Town, the impounding of Uber taxis has sparked a social media storm, with more than 20000 people signing the online memorandum, “#CTNeedsUber” during the past week.
Traffic officials there have impounded 200 Uber taxis since the beginning of the year for not having operating permits. Uber drivers in that city are required to have metered taxi operating licences.
In Johannesburg, where drivers operate on a charter licence, Uber yesterday warned clients to be careful of intimidation.
The warning follows the attack on Cape Town businesswoman Rachel Irvine shortly after she arrived at the Gautrain station.
Irvine said that, seeing the warning when she logged onto the Uber application, she had crossed the road to a hotel to meet her driver.
Two men asked if she was waiting for an Uber taxi and she said she was waiting for a friend, but “they saw through my story”.
As her Uber taxi stopped, the men pushed past her, slamming the door on her, threatening the driver and screaming at her.
“My taxi drove off and I walked off, with them following. I told them I would rather walk than use their taxi, but they still followed me.”
Irvine stopped at a Johannesburg metro police roadblock, where her taxi stopped. As she got into the taxi one of the men grabbed at her, ripping at her clothes, trying to pull her out of the taxi.
“I screamed and the metro police turned, but did nothing. My assailant then left.
“This is nothing but bully-boy tactics. Its absurd to think that they thought they could physically beat me into their taxi.”
Last night, an Uber driver, asking not to be named, said he had been intimidated by four men banging on the side of his vehicle near the Sandton station.
“They told me I can’t pick up people from here any more.”
The Times witnessed two men later approaching an apparent Uber driver, speaking to him briefly, before he sped off into the Sandton City mall parking lot. The two men walked up and down Rivonia, watching traffic.
Metered taxi driver Colbert Black said he had worked Sandton since 1993 and since the arrival of Uber, he had suffered a dramatic loss in income.
Yesterday, he made only R140 in two metered trips.
“Since the arrival of Uber there is no peak time. They charge a quarter of what we charge.”
Lucas Seale, spokesman for Gauteng Metered Taxi Operations, said Uber had originally marketed itself as a cellphone app not a metered taxi operator.
“They never went through our umbrella body, the Gauteng Metered Taxi Council, like they should have by law. They are not fair competitors. We are legal operators, whose fares are regulated, but they are not. They charge R7.50/km, whereas we charge R10.50. We can’t go any lower, where they can because they don’t have our overheads.
“Uber might work for the passengers, but it doesn’t for us.
“Even though we live in a capitalist country this is not fair business,” Seale said. The association had applied to embark on a national strike against Uber.
“We will be driving slowly on highways and through cities.”
Uber’s Johannesburg general manager, Alon Lits, said: “We have been engaging with metered taxi associations to find a way to partner with them. We do not feel it should be about Uber or meter taxis but rather a partnership.”
“Uber is all about choice . Competition is healthy. Although there are certain taxi operators who have expressed concern at Uber’s entry into the market, there are operators who have partnered with Uber to grow their business.”
The executive director of the City of Johannesburg transport division , Lisa Seftel, said the city believed there was room for both Uber and metered taxis.
“The difference between the licences is that metered taxis are meant to have a meter licence and a charter licence because they require a call beforehand to arrange a taxi.
“Uber currently falls in between the two licences because it is not a call service, but instead uses an app. They are on a charter licence.”
The Western Cape transport spokesman, Siphesihle Dube, said the City of Cape Town had imposed a moratorium in 2013 on the issuing of new taxi operating licences as per its integrated transport plan and the national Land Transport Act.
He said Uber was a platform not an operator, and licences were issued to operators not platforms.
Uber is expecting to hear the outcome of 143 of 350 outstanding applications to the Western Cape government next week, while a further 800 are awaiting approval from the City of Cape Town.
Johannesburg Metro Police Department said they would investigate the intimidation, and deploy officers to affected areas.