Western Cape premier and former Democratic Alliance (DA) leader, Helen Zille, has weighed in on the Uber internet ride sharing service melee.
The premier launched a weekly newsletter called Inside Government in which she says that the various provincial and national governments are working together on a way forward amid protests and conflict between Uber drivers and metered taxis.
Zille said it ‘came as a shock’ to discover that over 200 Uber taxis have been impounded by the traffic police in Cape Town since the beginning of the year – leading to a public outcry on social media in which 14,000 people signed an online petition to legalise the taxis.
Uber’s e-hailing service “does not fall into any of the categories of the National Land Transport Act”, an official told Zille. It is also not provided for in the Integrated Transport Plan, the premier said.
And any process to regularise the e-hailing service must follow the requirements of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.
Zille noted that a court case in the United States concluded last week that Uber drivers were not self-employed, but employees of the Uber company, a decision with far-reaching legal implications.
“This situation creates a crisis for government. Officials must act within the law. But the law doesn’t envisage or cater for e-hailing services. The result is government paralysis,” the premier said.
“The solution currently on the table is to license Uber taxis in terms of the clauses covering metered taxis, while providing certain exemptions,” Zille said.
“But why insist on licences at all, several people have asked? Surely, consumer choice should be regulated by the market? In any event, they say, Uber is self-regulating through a star-rating system.”
For public transport operators, the solution is not so simple. “Government cannot evade responsibility for safety, which includes roadworthiness, passenger insurance and third parties. If, for example, the vehicle does not have a valid operating licence, passengers cannot claim from the Road Accident Fund in the event of a crash,” Zille stated.
“Moreover, regulation of the taxi industry in South Africa has proved to be one of the examples of market failure. Competition is more often resolved by violence than consumer choice. There have been 15 murders (and many more injuries) in the past year relating to taxi conflicts in an overtraded industry.”
“And the current situation of overtrading can only be resolved by market displacement, which usually results in escalating violence. Furthermore, the law prohibits the issuing of additional licences in an overtraded market.”
The Western Cape lead pointed to Uber related problems faced by governments in European countries including France, Spain and Germany, who have been somewhat cautious. “They know they will be held responsible if something goes wrong,” Zille said.
“We are all working together on a way forward. On Thursday 9 July, there will be a meeting of the Provincial Regulating Entity, where all the verified Uber licence applications supported by the City will be considered. Those who gave false addresses, or other deficient information, will be rejected.”
“The City has also started the process of compiling a by-law to create a legal framework for the e-hailing industry, while the National Government has started the process of amending Section 66 of the National Land Transport Act, to make e-hailing taxis a sub-category of metered taxis,” Zille said.