‘Uber is turning the screws on us’

Alon Lits, general manager for Uber’s sub-Saharan African division. Picture: supplied
Alon Lits, general manager for Uber’s sub-Saharan African division. Picture: supplied

Uber “partner drivers” say the company is turning the screws on them with its experimental fare cuts, which were effected last week.

A protest at the company’s Cape Town office was planned for Thursday, with a permit obtained from the city. Uber evacuated most of its staff, but few drivers ultimately showed up.

Drivers who did show up told City Press that the cut in fares was forcing them to work unsustainable hours.

Fares were reduced to R6/km, compared with the previous R7.50/km in Johannesburg, and R7/km in Cape Town and Durban. A guarantee scheme was created that gives drivers at least R105 per peak hour and R75 per normal hour if their earnings fall below these levels.

In Durban, the guarantees were for R90 and R60, which was based on average driver earnings, said the company. Alon Lits, general manager of Uber in sub-Saharan Africa, told City Press on Friday that only a minority of drivers could conceivably lose money because of the cut.

“Most drivers will benefit from this. Obviously, there are some who won’t.”

He calls them “outliers” – people who physically couldn’t clock more fares in an hour than they already do.

Uber has 4 000 drivers in South Africa, but Lits claimed not one of them was doing as much paid driving as they could be doing.

The idea is that drivers will get much more business because of the lower fares, that their hourly earnings will stay the same or increase.

This is theoretically achieved by reducing unpaid time where drivers are waiting for a call or are busy driving to pick up a customer. “There are cities in the Uber world where that is less than 10 minutes [in the hour].”

In South Africa, the dead time was usually 35 minutes or more, he said.

“There might be people who lose. I can’t say a 100% there won’t be. I would be lying,” said Lits. “I don’t think there is anyone who can’t
drive more.”

Having employees leave the building before Thursday’s planned protest was part of “security protocol” that came from the parent company in the US, he said.

It was not the first time Uber in South Africa did it, but it was an “unusual” measure, said Lits. About 200 drivers held a meeting at Cape Town International Airport on Monday to discuss forming a union, said one driver who showed up on Thursday.

“An interim committee has been formed to work towards establishing a union so we can fight and oppose Uber in a good way,” said the driver.

Five other drivers said that before the cut, they could earn up to R7 000 a month after petrol by working seven days a week.

Uber hiked its share of fares from 20% to 25% for new drivers after January 18. After Uber takes its percentage, the drivers pay for petrol, smartphone data, maintenance and vehicle leases.

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