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TRANSPORT WARS

Calls made to regulate e-hailing services after vehicles torched and drivers assaulted

Calls made to regulate e-hailing services after vehicles torched and drivers assaulted
A burnt out e-hailing taxi next to the Gautrain track in University Road in Hatfield, Pretoria on 4 July 2017. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

A highly charged meeting at the Kliptown Police Station on Wednesday to quell the feuding between e-hailing services and taxi operators centred on regulation.

‘The first thing I want to say is that we are not fighting e-hailing operators,” said Myekeleni Eric Madlala, chairperson of the Soweto Taxi Services (STS).

Madlala was speaking at a tense meeting at the Kliptown Police Station in Soweto on Wednesday, called to try to quell tensions between taxi and e-hailing operations after ongoing attacks on e-hailing drivers and their vehicles.

“What has led to the problems that brought us here today is that our brothers in the e-hailing sector no longer know who they are,” said Madlala.

“They no longer operate as e-hailing cars. These are no longer e-hailing vehicles and they also know that,” said Madlala.

“We have a big problem in our malls. Our e-hailing brothers no longer operate on their apps,” he continued.

“They now pick up customers in malls in lines as if they operated a taxi rank,” Madlala said. “That does not sit well with us. You cannot build a home on top of another person’s home.”

On Monday, 5 June, a Hyundai Atos was torched in Protea Glen, Soweto, with the driver narrowly evading the assailants. This incident was preceded by attacks on e-hailing vehicles at the Maponya Mall, also in Soweto. In that incident, several cars were torched and some damaged. People were also physically attacked.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Police keep strong presence in Soweto after attacks on e-hailing drivers

Many e-hailing drivers blame taxi drivers for the attacks, but taxi industry leaders have denied any involvement.

“In all the malls you have your own people who go deep in the stores and they come out with shoppers who are escorted into your cars. You no longer use the app,” Madlala continued.

“We are not fighting with you. If we were fighting you, you wouldn’t even walk in the street,” he said.

The meeting, which featured a large number of armed police and private security guards, discussed several other issues that apparently gave rise to the conflict.

Vhatuka Mbelengwa, the national spokesperson for E-hailing SA, was a proponent for regulating the sectors.

“What is being misdiagnosed here is that as all participants within the space, above all else, everybody wants a functional industry to operate in. This can be provided through governance, through lawmakers, through our ministers and our Presidency establishing a regulatory framework to operate on,” said Mbelengwa.

“In the absence of a regulatory framework, you then find chaos as though we are enemies and we are not. It’s as a result of the government’s failure to regulate the sector that today we find ourselves in a meeting with such a strong security presence.”

Mbelengwa said the pricing within e-hailing operations undermined public transport across the board.

‘No accountability’

“The pricing competes directly with local operators. They compete directly with your minibus taxi operations. And there is no accountability because there is no legislative-instrument governing board.

“A price-determining instrument must be employed to ensure that as an e-hailing operator your pricing is reflective of your service and that as a taxi operator, your pricing is also reflective of your service.”

Mbelengwa said fixing the current problems was key to improving the e-hailing sector’s dwindling trip numbers, which he said had dropped by more than 39%.

City of Johannesburg MMC for public safety Mgcini Tshwaku told the meeting he believed that there was a third force perpetrating the conflict. Tshwaku said he came to this conclusion because of the parties’ denial that they were fighting.

“That’s why now we feel there might be a third force. We will have another meeting to put things in place for what should happen. We have spoken to the chief of police, K9 and JMPD [Johannesburg Metro Police Department] to ensure everyone is working within their designated precincts,” said Tshwaku.

Alulamehlo Makudu, the chair of a task team on the issue, said the conflict had been going on for many years. He echoed the importance of regulation. 

“The problem we have here, formal or informal, is that we do not have anything on paper which says we are legal,” said Makudu. “We need to formalise things so that we operate in a safe environment.”

Makudu said it was easy to eliminate illegal operators, but it would require a concerted effort. He said the taxi associations had a right to be concerned because they had negotiated agreements with the malls.

“We are really concerned about how this can be stopped before it worsens,” he said.

The SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) said it could not say that its members were involved.

“We have some people saying who they suspect, but we feel that law enforcement should take its place. We wish everyone can give police sufficient time to conduct their investigations,” said Santaco’s Rebecca Phala.

Speakers for the taxi industry accused e-hailing operators of acting outside the law.

An unidentified government official from the licensing department denied that the provincial government had failed to regulate the sector. “We are regulating e-hailing services. The regulation may not be proper, but we are regulating e-hailing services.”

He said while legislators continued to look at legislation to govern the e-hailing sector, operators “should be allocated the operating licence of a traditional metered taxi so that everyone within the public transport sector is regulated”.

While discussions about resolving the conflict continue, the parties agreed that e-hailing operators should stick to designated drop-off and pick-up locations within mall precincts.

“To be honest with you, e-hailing is confusing us. It confuses us a lot. It’s no longer Uber, Bolt or Go. They are now a complete association,” said Madlala.

“They have cancelled their apps. They are an association now. We cannot have other chairmen. There is only one chairman, me.” DM

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