Johannesburg - Traffic police have impounded 65 cars affiliated with internet ride-sharing service Uber in Cape Town during January so far.
On January 6 2015, Fin24 reported that traffic police had impounded 34 Uber vehicles at that stage because the service’s drivers didn’t have the right permits to operate in the Western Cape.
But the number of Uber partner cars impounded since then has almost doubled.
“A total of 78 sedan taxis were impounded for January 2015 of which 65 were Uber sedans,” Maxine Jordaan, a City of Cape Town Inspector for Traffic Services, told Fin24.
Cape Town city officials want Uber drivers to apply for metered taxi licences from the Western Cape province’s transport department.
Previously, a moratorium was in place until December 2014 that didn’t enforce the metered taxi licence requirement on Uber drivers. But the city has since decided to enforce this requirement.
Uber officials in South Africa have questioned whether a metered licence is appropriate for the internet ride-sharing service as Uber differs from traditional metered taxi operations.
For instance, Uber does not employ the drivers or the owners of the cars but partners with them. Also, no cash is exchanged between an Uber driver and passenger as the service’s mobile app instead calculates the fare according to distance travelled, and then deducts the amount from a passenger’s credit card.
Different South African cities also vary regarding their regulatory approach to Uber.
Earlier this month, the Uber General Manager for Johannesburg, Alon Lits, told Fin24 that partner drivers of the internet ride-sharing company are required to have chartered services operating licences in Johannesburg.
Lits said these chartered services operating licences are less onerous to obtain than metered taxi licences.
Uber in talks with Cape Town officials
Uber General Manager for Cape Town, Anthony le Roux, told Fin24 that the internet service is in discussion with the city regarding a way forward.
"We'll probably be in a much better position around this time next week to give some more concrete answers on where we are at,” le Roux told Fin24 on Tuesday.
"We're in a constructive dialogue here with the city and we're working through a series of meetings with them,” le Roux said.
Uber’s le Roux also told Fin24 that additional vehicles affiliated with the service have been impounded since January 6 2015 but he did not want to disclose details regarding the exact number of vehicles.
However, he added that Uber has been engaging with the Western Cape province since March last year and the City of Cape Town “fairly shortly afterwards” in an attempt to deal with the problem.
Richard Bosman, the City of Cape Town manager for safety and security, also told Fin24 that “I can confirm that the city via Councillor Herron has indicated that the city is prepared to engage with Uber taxis to find a solution to this matter”.
Metered taxi licences
Uber partner drivers have, in the meantime, started applying for metered taxi licences in Cape Town.
“We've tried to do as much as we can on our side to work through this licensing process and get the drivers to operate within the licensing framework. But fundamentally if you look at the moratorium that was essentially on the granting of new operating licences, that only opened up on the December 1 2014,” le Roux told Fin24.
Le Roux said some Uber drivers have applied for the metered taxi permit but have been rejected on the first round of this process, which, for example, requires drivers to motivate a business case.
On the other hand, le Roux also told Fin24 that feedback has not been provided yet to other Uber drivers who have applied for the metered taxi permit.
"And I suspect that that's a function of figuring out where we're going land with the city on a final solution and I would expect them to get feedback on those licences post that solution that we develop with the city,” he said.
The Uber Cape Town general manager, though, did not want to disclose as to how many of its partner drivers in the city have applied for the metered taxi permits.
Global regulatory pressures
It’s not only Cape Town where Uber is facing regulatory pressure.
Uber is also banned in Thailand, the city of Madrid in Spain and Seoul in South Korea for not complying with local laws.
Uber is also facing regulatory scrutiny in Singapore, The Netherlands, Indonesia, Vietnam and Canadian city Toronto.
The service has even previously been banned in New Delhi in India where an Uber driver allegedly raped a passenger. In December, an Uber driver was also charged with rape in the US city of Boston.