Driven to the brink: e-hailing drivers say they're being taken for a ride, demand regulation of fees

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E-hailing drivers in Cape Town recently marched to Parliament to hand over a memorandum to the labour department.
E-hailing drivers in Cape Town recently marched to Parliament to hand over a memorandum to the labour department.
  • E-hailing drivers in the Western Cape have called for a review of government regulations on commissions charged by e-hailing service providers.
  • They handed over a memorandum to Parliament last week.
  • Expecting a response by Friday, officials informed them they had incorrectly assumed the seven-day deadline would expire on Tuesday as they don't work on weekends.

E-hailing drivers in the Western Cape have called for a review of government regulations on commissions charged by e-hailing service providers.

And should they not receive a response by Tuesday to the memorandum handed over to officials at Parliament during last week's protest, they will be back on its doorstep.

The drivers said they were informed on Friday morning that they would receive answers to their list of demands by the transport department on Tuesday, the Cape Town E-Hailing Drivers Association warned.

Last week, about 100 e-hailing drivers from DiDi, Uber, Bolt, and inDriver marched to Parliament to hand over a memorandum to representatives of the transport and labour departments, urging government intervention.

The e-hailing drivers are demanding that a 13% fee be charged as commission, R10 per kilometre is what the drivers want, and they want the "GO" option to be removed from the apps as it constitutes what they called a form of "slavery".

Uber currently charges 25% commission, while Bolt charges 30%, and DiDi 13%.

According to the disgruntled drivers, the GO option is currently the cheapest ride fare with older cars or small hatchbacks.

The chairperson of the Cape Town E-Hailing Drivers Association, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, said:

Riders always tend to take the cheaper option, which is not profitable to drivers since Uber and Bolt still take the same commission fee as per normal. Since more clients prefer cheaper options, drivers now have no choice but to activate the GO option.

Several drivers told News24 their working conditions were inhumane.

And with business slowing down during the hard lockdown, people working from home, and the ongoing curfews crippling their income, they have few options left.

'Targets for impounding'

Former Uber driver Samuel Bester said the company didn’t care about their drivers.

"We are the targets for impounding in the city centre, Cape Town International Airport, Rondebosch, Mowbray and many other congested areas. The traffic cops impound us almost every weekend because we don’t have e-hailing permits. We as the drivers are then liable to pay the fines," he said.

Bester said Uber blocked his drivers' account more than three years ago due to "false information" they received about a trip he had requested for himself.

He said that on his off day, he had requested an Uber service as a passenger, however, the driver he had received cancelled the trip and did not show up. The driver had then ostensibly filed a complaint against Bester saying he was verbally abusive, and that Bester had a weapon on him.

"The driver did not pick me up. That app clearly showed on that day that I did not get into the vehicle as the driver had cancelled the trip for no reason. Uber has not bothered to ask my side of the story and just blocked my account immediately telling me, 'I'm a driver I should know better'. It's been a nightmare trying to get my account back up and running," he said.

Uber told News24 they are busy investigating his case and therefore couldn't immediately respond to his allegations.

Bester said he eventually left Uber and joined the Bolt service.

According to Bester, Bolt drivers were being threatened with having their accounts blocked if they reject trips to "dangerous areas".

"We can’t accept trips in crime-ridden areas because we fear we will be hijacked and killed," said Bester.

'Suffered during lockdown'

Uber driver Pumza Rolinyati said she has now resorted to only transporting women.

"Sometimes I feel unsafe in some of the areas. I choose where to work and I also have options in my app that I can pick up females only. [It] is much safer as I don't need to pick up any men," she said.

Rolinyati said she’s frustrated that the Department of Transport still "refuses" to give Uber working permits to work after curfew.

She added that drivers require the permits to continue to work longer hours, as they have clients that need to be picked up late in the evening and sometimes after midnight from their different work locations.

"We suffered a lot during the lockdown because many people weren’t requesting rides. [Even currently] the number of people requesting rides has dropped and we hardly had any tourists requesting our services. It’s been tough," she said.

Rolinyati said she hopes that the company will reduce the 25% that they deduct from the drivers and communicate with them regularly.

Protesting e-haling drivers in Cape Town
E-hailing drivers say the impounding of cars is of great concern.

Drivers said fuel has gone up three times this year, but the e-hailing companies are still charging the same rate since they launched in the country.

The drivers claim that since the e-hailing platforms started operating in Cape Town, they "never" increase the fares.

"Fuel is at an all-time high, Covid-19 hit us hard – we pay for car instalments, data, fuel, vehicle service, car wash. They do not even assist the drivers financially in the unfortunate events of extortion, hijacking, theft or even murder," the association chairperson said.

He added that what upset him the most is that no permits to drive after curfew were granted this year.

"We only received essential permits to work during and after curfew hours last year. After the permit expired, they were not renewed yet and we don't know why. We want the transport department to give us answers to this as well," he said.

Hijacking, illegal vehicle impoundment

Western Cape MEC of Transport and Public Works (DTPW) Daylin Mitchell said he has met with the management of the two biggest e-hailing companies to examine the concerns raised by their partners and drivers and to hear from them how they are "planning to address the issues raised".

"I made this decision in the interest of protecting the commuters and motorists who are using our roads. The representatives of the two companies informed me and senior officials from my department and the City of Cape Town that they will be communicating with their drivers and partners during the week," he said.

Mitchell added that concerns were raised by Uber and Bolt representatives regarding the safety of their drivers and passengers in the face of extortion, hijacking and other crimes for which they are targeted.

"I made it very clear that, other than authorised traffic or police officers, no one has the right to 'impound' vehicles or to impose 'fines' or 'release fees'."

The department added that it, together with the Department of Community Safety, has ensured that the SAPS treats these cases with importance, and would continue to "monitor the situation".

E-hailing drivers handing over a memorandum
E-hailing drivers recently handed over a memorandum to the departments of labour and transport.

"Officials from both departments (DTPW and SAPS) are building up a database of cases that have been reported to us – which we pass on to the SAPS to at least launch inquiries if criminal cases have not been opened. Our province, our economy and our poorest communities depend on public transport," Mitchell added.

"We cannot and will not allow anyone to hold public transport, our city and our province to ransom."

Bolt regional manager Gareth Taylor told News24 that the company was and would continue looking for ways to "increase driver earnings, including incentivising passengers", launching new categories, establishing partnerships with other brands, and marketing the Bolt platform to attract passengers.

"We also engage regularly with the local authorities and law enforcement, sharing any information possible to help them address the crimes of hijacking and illegal vehicle impoundment," he said.

Taylor said Bolt last year introduced "cash optionality" on the driver app, which gives drivers the option to reject a cash trip if they feel unsafe, without this impacting their platform rating.

"Bolt drivers and passengers are covered at no cost by Bolt Trip Protection – an insurance cover that provides for emergency medical expenses, permanent disability and death caused by an incident while on a Bolt trip," said Taylor.

'Commitment' to economic empowerment

The company added that drivers are covered while they are online and active on the Bolt platform, whether they are waiting for a ride or are on a ride until they go offline.

"Cape Town-based drivers on Bolt earned 27% more per hour in October this year than they earned in October last year and we were able to achieve this whilst still offering passengers affordable rides," he added.

Taylor added that Bolt communicated with drivers in October and on 5 November, that it had increased its pricing for passengers on the Bolt GO option in Durban and Cape Town by R0.50 (8.3%) per kilometre.

Carina Smith-Allin, DiDi's head of public relations and communication for Sub-Saharan Africa, said they entered the South African market earlier this year with a "commitment" to economic empowerment through entrepreneurship development, as well as access to safe, affordable mobility.

"We respect and have always and will continue to listen to our driver-partners, and as a brand, we will continue to drive economic development in South Africa," she said.

Smith-Allin said:

We believe that we continue to uphold and strengthen that commitment through competitive rates and our 14 world-class safety features. DiDi currently offers the lowest commission rate of 13% among all e-hailing services in SA and most countries.

According to DiDi, earlier this month, it launched two new driver initiatives that will enable new driver-partners to earn up to R1 000 in bonuses within their first two weeks of driving for DiDi.

"Our current driver-partners can then also earn referral bonuses of up to R3 500 for all referred drivers who sign up and get verified on the platform," the company said.

Backlog of permit applications

Uber general manager for Sub-Saharan Africa Frans Hiemstra said Uber understood drivers' concerns about Uber's service fees.

"We have a standard service fee of 25% across all cities. The cost of running the Uber app comes out of Uber's service fee from each fare. Through this service fee, we are also able to provide drivers with dedicated support at our Greenlight Hub and can extensively market to riders to increase the earnings for drivers," Hiemstra said.

Uber said drivers depended on their vehicles to make a living, but continued to wait long periods for their renewed driver’s licences to be issued.

Hiemstra said:

The delay in drivers still waiting on their licences is concerning, and the problem is worsening as the backlog of permit applications steadily grows. We understand the financial implications impoundments have on drivers, and as such, we do reimburse drivers for the fees payable because of an impoundment.

He said the company would continue to engage the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape government on this issue and would make all the necessary information that they request from the company available to the City.

"We are doing as much as we can to make this process easier for drivers and will continue to support drivers," he added.

News24 contacted inDriver. At the time of publishing, no response had been received.

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