Reports of violence flaring up between Uber and metered taxi drivers have abated over the last year or two, but this could be attributed as much to the safety measures put in place by Uber as to the placation of the metered taxi industry.
Uber users in Johannesburg would have noticed changes to Uber’s systems in areas where intimidation from metered taxis has historically been a problem.
When searching for a ride at the airport, Uber recommends riders head to the domestic departures terminal to avoid the swarm of metered taxi drivers at international arrivals. Riders who want to order an Uber from the Sandton Gautrain station are prompted to walk to a pickup point across the road to avoid any interaction with metered taxi drivers.
These measures reduce the potential for violent interactions between metered taxi drivers and Uber users, but despite the equal right for both to access conventional pickup and drop-off zones, Uber has sacrificed the experience of its riders to avoid confrontation.
The company has long maintained that South African police could do more to prevent metered taxi intimidation at no-go zones and crime hotspots, and it reiterated this stance in responses sent to queries from MyBroadband.
Violence must be condemned
“Over the last few years, there has been intimidation against driver-partners at the Gautrain stations across Gauteng where we have hired private security for on-site monitoring and to manage the situation as best as possible to ensure reliable pickup and drops off,” an Uber spokesperson told MyBroadband.
“The violence and intimidation caused, only underlines why people are increasingly choosing safe, reliable alternatives like Uber.”
Uber said that the threats and intimidation against people who want to use the ride-hailing app must be strongly condemned.
“Any situation which prohibits driver-partners to boost their incomes or limits consumer choice is unacceptable,” the company said. “Consumers have the right to decide how they choose to move around the city, and safety and reliability are why they choose Uber.”
“We will continue to provide additional security measures, however, Uber is not a security company and we need law enforcement and Gautrain management to get involved and help solve the issue as soon as possible, as they are the only ones who can move this forward.”
As an example, intimidation by metered taxi drivers at the Sandton Gautrain station forced the company to implement additional security and re-route passengers to pickup points across the road from the station.
“Uber driver-partners were previously operating inside the Gautrain stations where they would either drop off or pick up Gautrain passengers,” Uber said.
“Unfortunately, due to the increase in intimidation by metered taxi drivers, we reacted the best we could within our power by implementing additional private security and pickup zones across the road.”
Uber’s safety strategy
Uber is responding to this intimidation as best it can, and has continually urged police and Gautrain management to assist in protecting drivers and riders from violence and intimidation.
“Safety is a priority for all who use the Uber app regardless of where they are. However, we have hired additional security response teams in areas where our driver-partners and riders have reported intimidation,” Uber said.
“Drivers and riders are encouraged to make use of the multiple safety features available on the app, should they at any point feel unsafe.”
The app will also notify users when they are calling a ride in areas where the chances of intimidation are higher.
“The Uber app will notify driver-partners and riders in areas of high intimidation so that they remain vigilant at all times and will direct them to a specific pick-up and drop off zone, which we encourage all users to make use of.”
Uber has an Incident Response Team that is available 24 hours a day and a Law Enforcement Relations Team which aims to work with police to assist in investigations and respond to urgent needs.
While it has implemented a variety of safety features to protect Joburg commuters, Uber stressed that it is not a security company, and the responsibility to protect South Africans from violence and intimidation rests with the South African Police Service.