Cape Town and Johannesburg - Ride-sharing app Uber is trying to meet metered taxi permit requirements in Cape Town as protests against the internet service kicked off in the city on Thursday.
About 25 cars and over 200 taxi drivers took to Cape Town’s streets on Thursday to protest against illegal taxi operators who operate in the city without metered licences.
However, the protest particularly focused on ride-sharing app Uber as taxi drivers held up placards denouncing the internet service.
Controversy has rocked Uber in Cape Town this year as over 60 of the service’s cars have been impounded in the city because the drivers don’t have metered taxi licence permits.
Fin24 previously reported that the number of impounded Uber cars topped 65 in January. But the City of Cape Town’s Executive Director for Safety and Security Richard Bosman told Fin24 on Thursday that this number has climbed to 68 so far this month.
Uber is in discussions with the City of Cape Town about what type of licence its service should conform to as the internet ride-sharing app does not enable partner drivers to accept cash payments while the cost of an Uber ride is calculated by the app and not a meter.
Uber drivers in Johannesburg also comply with chartered service permits, which Uber has said is less onerous to obtain.
Nevertheless, in the short-term, Uber has said it is trying to comply with the City of Cape Town’s metered taxi permit requirements.
"We are firm on the fact that the metered taxi category is not necessarily a good category to be in or the appropriate category for operators working on the Uber system,” Anthony le Roux, Uber’s Cape Town General Manager, told Fin24 on Thursday.
"We feel that there are other much better categories like the chartered service operating category which is what operators in Johannesburg apply with and it's the same national legislation.
"But with the aim of getting as many licences or as many operators' licences as quickly as possible, we've in the interim seen this as a good short-term solution,” he said.
A key sticking point for Uber has also been that some of its partner drivers have undergone the application for metered taxi permits in the Western Cape but been rejected.
Drivers wanting to obtain metered taxi licences in Cape Town apply via the the Western Cape’s provincial transport department. But the provincial department relies on the City of Cape Town to provide feedback on whether there is, for example, enough demand for a new metered taxi licence in particular areas of the city.
Le Roux, though, told Fin24 that Uber is working with the City of Cape Town to solve this problem as well.
"Drivers have always been applying for licences whether they are metered taxi licences or chartered service operating licences,” le Roux told Fin24.
"The issue has been that they were not able to get them and we're confident from our side that we've now done as much as we possibly can to give the tools to apply for this licence in the best way possible. And our engagement with the city has been constructive in this regard so hopefully we'll see this licensing issue sort itself out,” le Roux said.
David Drummond, who is the vice chairperson of the Western Cape Metered Taxi Council, told Fin24 about why the council’s members have taken to protesting in Cape Town.
“Today's march is on our members that are in the City of Cape Town. We are predominantly marching against illegal taxi operators. These are not people that are standing in the wrong street or area. These are people that have no permits, (who) are not authorised at all," he told Fin24.
“The City of Cape Town has identified 100 metered taxis operating with absolutely zero legality whatsoever. Our job is to get these off the street," he said.
When asked about his views on Uber, Drummond had a mixed response.
“We have no objection with the app; however, if you want to use the application, it must be done in a legal metered taxi, which has a roof sign, has a metered taxi inside the car. And Uber does not operate in those conditions. Therefore, they are contravening the conditions that we have struggled to uphold, that we've struggled to get, that we've struggled to apply for. They've entered the market and have been allowed to operate at will," he said.
"That was a big part of our march today and the frustration has been aired by our members. The fact that Uber has not created any new market - they've created it on our existing market and that has put a lot of pressure on our members," Drummond said.
Drummond went on to say that the vice chairperson of the Western Cape Metered Taxi Council handed over a memorandum to the director general of the Western Cape transport department.
The council expects a response in seven days.
“Failing that, our members have instructed us to meet again," Drummond said.
“We fear that we are not going to be able to control our members going forward, so we feel that this is the opportunity for the province and city to collectively get together and deal with the issue at hand," he said.
City of Cape Town responds
Meanwhile, the City of Cape Town's Mayoral Committee Member for Transport, Councillor Brett Herron, has told Fin24 that officials are engaging with Uber and are looking for a solution to the problems facing the internet ride-sharing service in the city.
"I met with Uber representatives and Minister Donald Grant in Johannesburg on 16 January 2015 when we discussed the licensing requirements for Uber’s partner operators. This followed from a meeting I had with them last year as well. On 16 January 2015 we once again discussed the regulatory requirements that must be met in order for their operators to be providing transport services lawfully. We had a follow-up meeting on Thursday last week (22 January 2015) and they fully understand the licensing requirements," Herron told Fin24.
"We are very supportive of the Uber innovation. It has the potential to raise the quality of service in our city and to make on-demand transport services more commuter-focused and commuter-friendly. However, we are compelled to work within legislation and regulations and we must apply the law equally to all operators. We will work with Uber and its operators to ensure that they make their licence applications as we would with any other operator. Uber accepted that they need to ensure that their operators are properly licensed and undertook to support their operators in the application process," Herron said.
"Our objective is to have a well-functioning and stable commuter-focused public transport network," Herron added.
Watch Fin24's video interview with David Drummond:
Listen to Fin24's interview with Uber Cape Town GM Anthony le Roux:
Watch News24 Live's video interview with Anthony le Roux: