Two Uber customers who were intimidated by metered taxi drivers outside the Sandton Gautrain station on Monday had a warning for fellow fans of the app-based service.
Shaken but not stirred, Kerry Lehmann and Lauren-Lee Poultney told Fin24 they were concerned by the lack of protection from security or police officers after they were forced to walk away from an Uber car that was picking them up.
This is not the first incident at this station and Uber has even implemented an in-app alert for users, advising them to meet their drivers inside the station at the drop off and go area or short-term parking.
And that is exactly the message Lehmann and Poultney have for fellow users.
“If I have any advice to users, it would be to go underground to the drop off area,” said Lehmann.
“The security was useless,” she said. “At one point I screamed at the security and (the)… security was just standing there and looking at us. I spoke to the security guard and they asked us if they should have stopped on them. They said they couldn’t because it was beyond the white line (Gautrain’s property jurisdiction) and has nothing to do with them.
“My concern is that the security just stood there,” she said.
Gautrain spokesperson Barbara Jensen said while the situation was regrettable, the Gautrain guards were not allowed to get involved in a situation that was off their perimeter but were supposed to notify police about the situation.
“They are not armed,” she told Fin24. “They don’t even wear batons. Our jurisdiction ends at the end of Gautrain perimeter.
“We can’t get involved in the Uber and taxi issue,” she said. “The city is trying to sort (this) out and has had a number of meetings with Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport Ismail Vadi.
“Uber also has the message that tells its customers to go into the underground pick-up zone. It’s much safer than the one on the street.
“There is a way to avoid this by using that underground location,” she said. “Then our guards have far more jurisdiction.”
Jensen said the situation was being monitored and that there was an increased police presence last week. “It’s very unfortunate that this is happening,” she said. “Even I use Uber.”
A journey turned sour
After spending a perfect weekend away in Cape Town, married couple Lehmann and Poultney had caught the Gautrain from OR Tambo International Airport to Sandton and were getting ready for the final journey home when the ordeal began.
“There was a huge crowd outside the station,” said Poultney. “They had boards saying ‘taxi here’.”
When they attempted to put their luggage in the boot of the Uber car, Lehmann said the group got up and some of them started hitting the car with their hands. “They wouldn’t let me put my bags in the car,” said Lehmann.
The couple said the group then started chasing them up the road, which is when things started getting aggressive.
Lehmann whipped out her cellphone to film the ordeal, and a man is seen trying to knock the phone out of her hand.
In the background, a Gautrain security guard is clearly visible standing away from the scene and no police presence is evident.
“I love the Uber drivers,” said Lehmann. “They are amazing.”
After commenting about the event on social media, sub-Saharan Africa Uber community operations manager Anthea Baroutsos emailed the couple to apologise and even refunded their R51.47 trip home.
“I know it is definitely not about the money, but I would like to do this as a form of apology for the trouble,” Baroutsos wrote in the email.
“Even though it wasn’t their fault, they refunded us and they contacted Gautrain to report the incident,” said Lehmann. “We also got a phone call from Gautrain and they apologised and said they would report back to us on Wednesday.”
“I wanted to let you know that we notified Gautrain management as soon as we became aware of intimidation,” Baroutsos wrote. “We have also ensured that drivers have access to a number which deploys a private security vehicle in the event of an emergency.
“When this vehicle is dispatched, police are notified at the same time by the security call centre and asked to respond to this event. I am following up on your incident as the security vehicle should have been on site at this time.
“We are working with all relevant stakeholders in Johannesburg and Gauteng to resolve this as a matter of urgency,” she said.