At least 62 Uber vehicles were impounded by the City of Cape Town’s Traffic Services in the past week for operating without the correct permits. A total of 140 Uber vehicles have been impounded over the past two weeks alone – something which has caused immense frustration among Cape Town’s Uber drivers.
From as early as 2016, South African government has began clamping down on Uber taxis operating without a meter license after cabinet approved a bill which required metered taxis to operate only with a permit.
Alon Lits, the general manager of Uber Sub-Saharan Africa, told CapeTalk on Wednesday that Uber has been engaging with the City of Cape Town for years now regarding the issuing of these permits to drivers, but no progress has been made.
“The problem lies with the City, we’ve been engaging for years now, and despite promises around permits being issued, drivers are still stuck in a process, with no insight into when permits will be issued,” Lits said.
One Uber driver, who prefers to remain anonymous, says that this is fundamentally why Uber vehicles are being impounded. “It’s not an issue of drivers not being able to afford the permit, because it is quite cheap,” he said. “The problem is that only a few permits are processed at a time, and for some reason, there appears to be a backlog. We as Uber drivers do not receive the permits, and are then impounded for operating without them.”
According to the driver, Uber covers the release fee of an impounded vehicle, but this only occurs every Wednesday. “If my vehicle is impounded on a Thursday, I have to wait six whole days to get it back. If my paperwork is not completed on time, this takes even longer,” he said. “Think about it, thats six whole days without working.”
Many Uber drivers have also expressed frustration at the bad rap Uber drivers are now earning because they are frequently impounded. “This doesn’t just tarnish the name of the company we work for, but also impacts our livelihood,” one says. “Things like this may cause disrepute among our clients.”
The driver also said that Traffic Service officials intimidate Uber drivers by tail gating them.
Samantha Allenberg, communications manager for Uber, says the company has actively been working with regulators to shape the future of e-hailing in South Africa.
“Uber continues to go above and beyond to try work with the city on this issue, however, the issuing of permits to all in the industry continues to be delayed as there is a backlog with the relevant departments.”
Although a number of permits were applied for more than a year ago, they have yet to be issued by the relevant department, she said. “Driver-partners are providing for their families and giving the citizens of Cape Town a service they want and need – safe, affordable and reliable rides. However, the City continues to enforce impoundments even when the delay is on their side. We are doing as much as we can to make this process easier for driver-partners and will continue to support them until we have a solution from the City.”
Traffic Services paints a completely different picture and blame Uber drivers for operating contrary to the conditions of the permit issued.
In response to claims that Uber drivers have experienced harassment by Traffic Services officials, Merle Lourens, assistant chief of the City of Cape Town’s Traffic Services, says that this is not true.
“I can assure you that our Traffic Officers have never harassed any public transport drivers, whether it be an Uber, Taxify, Bus, Minibus, Ampahela or Scholar Transport operator,” she said.
“I am not sure as to what is referred to as ‘harassment’ in this case. Is it because the Uber vehicle was impounded due to the fact that they do not have the relevant operating licenses or that they operate contrary to the conditions of their permit? If so, then this should not be seen as harassment but rather that Traffic Services is actually performing their function as mandated.”