South Africa latest stop for anti-Uber protests

by Onize Ohikere
Posted 7/09/15, 08:00 am

Since it’s launch in 2009, ride-sharing service Uber has had to navigate regulatory roadblocks and opposition from the licensed taxi community. Drivers around the globe have taken to the streets to protest the company elbowing in on their business.

But in South Africa, Uber drivers have faced violent attacks from taxi drivers accusing them of stealing customers.

Passengers describe watching local cabbies pull Uber drivers out of their cars and threaten them with whips, batons, and guns. Uber hired security guards to protect drivers on risky routes in Johannesburg.

The company began operating in South Africa in 2012. Since then, it reports rides have increased from 1 million in 2014 to 2 million so far in the first half of this year. For taxi drivers, that means business is sliding.

“There’s an existing system and there’s always going to be winners and losers when you inject a new system,” said Elisabeth Ramsey of The Wilson Center. “This is the livelihood for a number of people.”

On Tuesday, taxi drivers meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa’s biggest city, concluded Uber should not operate without an affiliation with a local taxi association or a running meter.

While Uber, like other ride-sharing companies, reflects a change in the economy, the laws are not adapting as fast.

South Africa’s National Land Transport Act recognizes six categories of private transport services, including buses, rickshaws, and metered taxis. But an online innovation has no place in this system. The result: local authorities impounded more than 200 Uber cars over the past year for not complying with licensing requirements. Similarly in France, Uber suspended its operation after violent protests over licensing requirements.

Ramsey said Uber needs to realize how different economic systems work to succeed internationally.

“They have to engage with the stakeholders and understand the existing system,” she said. “In South Africa, they can work to change the laws on a technical basis, but it is not going to buy in with the taxi system.”

Uber operates in 57 countries across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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