Uber has hired private security guards to protect its South African drivers from being intimidated and xenophobically harassed by metered taxi drivers, ENGadget reports.
The move came after protests were staged at Gautrain Station and Sandton City by metered taxi drivers unhappy that they have to share the same routeswith Uber drivers.
Demand for Uber in South Africa has been surging. The Internet ride-sharing company said this week more than 2 million local rides have been booked so far this year — double that of 2014, News24 reports.
People who hired an Uber driver over the weekend in Johannesburg say their driver was threatened at gunpoint by metered taxi drivers, part of ongoing and escalating conflict between the old way of hailing a taxi, and the new disruptive technology afforded by social media.
Melinda Bason told Eyewitness News she and her husband saw metered taxi drivers harass their Uber driver and threaten to beat him.
“They grabbed the keys from the ignition, intimidating him,” she said. “There was a gun involved and intimidation with that weapon. They were screaming that (Uber was) taking away business from South Africa and Uber must go back to Germany.”
Uber is not actually a German company, although it does business there. It’s an American international transportation network company headquartered in San Francisco, California that develops, markets and operates the Uber mobile app. The app allows consumers with smartphones to request a trip. The trip is then routed to drivers in the sharing economy.
As of May 28, 2015, Uber was available in 58 countries and 300 cities worldwide.
After the Johannesburg couple’s taxi driver left the area, promising to pick them up one street over, the metered taxi drivers turned on her husband, Bason said. “We are the meter taxi guys; you are not part of the public transport committee. You shouldn’t have the right to operate here,” she recalls them saying.
Uber just hasn’t been able to catch a break lately, htxt reports.
Last week the company’s Western Cape operations said they has been the subject of xenophobic targeting with more than 200 Uber drivers’ cars impounded.
On Friday, metered taxi drivers protested outside Uber’s headquarters in Johannesburg.
Despite trying to work with the metered taxi associations, intimidation from metered taxi drivers has escalated, Uber South Africa CEO Alon Lits told EyewitnessNews.
“We are in constant communication with the drivers assuring them that their safety is our No. 1 priority,” Lits said. “Uber has asked the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department for protection.
“It’s not an environment where it’s about Uber or taxi. It’s about Uber and taxi and how can we find a way to co-exist,” Lits said.
Lits said metered taxi drivers are reluctant to work with the new system despite the opportunities the platform offers. Uber has created hundreds of jobs in South Africa and continues to try and engage associations and unions.
When the Uber driver hired by Melinda Bason and her husband was threatened at gunpoint by metered taxi drivers over the weekend, the couple reported the incident to the nearby metro police. They said officers on duty were uninterested and made no effort to help the Uber driver, EWN reported.
Lits insists Uber isn’t a taxi company, but rather a company that makes use of technology.
“Uber is a not a transportation company, we are a technology platform,” he said, according to htxt. “Our technology is open and pro-choice and we are keen to offer it to a broad number of taxi drivers to boost their occupancy rates and chances for profit. In fact many metered taxi drivers are already using our technology to boost their incomes and we would welcome more who wish to join their colleagues.”
One of the most disruptive brands ever, Uber helped unite the taxi industry and social media, and it’s alive and well in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Lagos. In South Africa, where unemployment is about 25 percent, Uber is considered a messiah of sorts, bringing affordable fees to transportation and allowing people with cars to become entrepreneurs. And it’s happening in a cashless environment.
“Guys that started with one car now have multiple vehicles,” Lits told AFKInsider during an earlier video interview. “Now they’re entrepreneurs.”
Uber faced so much violence in France that it had to suspend UberPOP, its amateur ride-sharing service, to protect the safety of its drivers, according to ENGadget. That same service has been been banned in Germany, Spain and Brussels.
Uber downplayed the South African protests in two blog posts, saying they were just a “gathering of a small number of metered taxi drivers.”
Uber has accumulated more than 13,000 signatures as part of a petition to raise awareness over its permit problems in Cape Town, News24 reports. The government has not issued a licence for new Uber drivers in the last six months — a process that typically should take a few weeks.
“Capetonians really want Uber, … they need Uber,” Samantha Allenberg, Uber communications associate for Africa, told Fin24. “There is a need and there is actually demand for this service in the city…Riders want the service; drivers want the service.”
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