The ride-sharing company Uber has received heat from unhappy taxi drivers around the world who believe their livelihood is being affected. Of course, they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But, now the fight has literally spread to South Africa. While auto insurance requirements differ from those in the U.S., the way South African taxi drivers are dealing with the growing competition differs quite a bit as well.
With the number of people using Uber to book taxis in South Africa rising sharply, drivers of the app-based taxi firm, have been encountering increased wrath from Johannesburg’s established and notoriously tough traditional metered taxi drivers.
In fact, the well-earned, fierce reputation of South Africa’s taxi drivers dates back to the days of apartheid and continues today as they often resort to violence to protect their routes. Now, that Uber has entered the picture and tensions have been slowly simmering for months, the disputes are intensifying.
The anger is the result of the metered taxi drivers’ contention that Uber for taking their customers, and making business difficult for them. Their ire came to a head recently in the business area of Sandton, a wealthy suburb where taxi drivers compete daily for business, when a passenger was forcefully pulled out of an Uber vehicle and the driver was threatened with whips and batons.
A spokesman for the body representing metered taxi owners in South Africa’s economic heartland of Gauteng province, Lucas Seale, strongly believes Uber must go. He points out that under apartheid the white minority government neglected to provide reliable public transportation for the majority of South Africans – until mostly black individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit decided to start an informal taxi service.
That taxi service, which has been running for decades, is what the traditional metered-drivers are trying to preserve – minus competition from Uber.
Echoing a familiar complaint expressed by cab drivers in the U.S., old South African taxi drivers like Peter Moloi accuse Uber of getting preferential treatment from the authorities. According to Moloi, the government wants regulations, but is finding it difficult to penetrate the multi-billion dollar industry. Minibus taxis provide an essential service by ferrying millions of people every day to and from work.
However, passengers have a different view of the situation, saying Uber prices are cheaper and its cars are much cleaner. And, it is under this tense climate that the app-based taxi firm, Uber, arrived – changing the landscape to one of potential violence.
In some cases, Uber drivers are too frightened to pick up customers after being harassed by the metered taxi drivers. Other altercations involve grabbing the keys from the ignition, brandishing a gun, and intimidating the driver with various weapons.
Uber’s progress in Africa in recent years:
• Launched in Johannesburg in 2012
• Operating in Lagos since 2014
• Started rolling out a service in Nairobi in February
Headquartered in San Francisco, California, Uber has faced opposition before in other international cities, including Paris this past June, and the protests are probably not about to cease anytime soon. As long as traditional metered-taxi drivers feel their livelihood and their routes are being encroached on, they will refuse to share their territory – and may resort to any means necessary to maintain them – as evidenced in Paris and Johannesburg.
Would you be willing to ride Uber in a city where you knew local taxi drivers had a very negative view of the company and could resort to violence? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.