Uber and Taxify drivers took to Zoo Lake on Tuesday morning to begin a strike organised by the eHailing Association of South Africa (Ehasa) alongside a group calling themselves the General Task Team (GTT).
The drivers of the two rival e-hailing giants joined forces in protest of a range of problems they have with the way the companies operate.
Their grievances include the two company’s admission of too many new drivers, their refusal to offer drivers increases in line with rising fuel price, safety concerns and what they see as the excessive share in their money taken by the companies, which is allegedly at least 25 percent.
While The Citizen published a WhatsApp message that was circulating among Uber and Taxify drivers on Monday, we reported that we did not yet know who is behind the mysterious GTT.
On Tuesday at Zoo Lake, we were introduced to Vhatuka Mbelengwa, who says he circulated the message which plead with e-hailing drivers not to go online and warned them that doing so would put their lives in danger.
Mbelengwa, who claims to be a spokesperson for GTT, says one of the main aims of the strike is to get the two companies to stop accepting new drivers.
What is known as the “onboarding” of new drivers in the industry has severe consequences for existing drivers, according to Mbelengwa.
“We’re looking at an initial spend on a vehicle of R300 000 and we want the maximum return on our investment of assets as is. The continual adding of new drivers means that to compete, we need to run so many trips that our vehicle depreciates to the point that we can’t get that return.
“This also compromises vehicle safety, which in turn compromises rider safety and forces us to perform excessive maintenance on the vehicle.”
Another grievance was the refusal of Uber and Taxify to raise their prices in line with the constantly rising petrol price.
“The fuel price is a national problem, we are simply saying that since the rise in the price we have seen no increases,” Mbelengwa said.
When approached for comment about the strike on Monday, specifically about allegations that they refuse to adapt prices to rising fuel costs, Uber sent a generic statement explaining why this is the case.
“We respect driver-partners as valuable partners with a voice and a choice and we want driver-partners to feel they can talk to us about anything at any time,”read the statement.
“We constantly monitor fares and examine consumer price sensitivities to ensure fares are correctly priced so that riders continue to take trips and drivers have access to more fare paying passengers. If fares were to increase, then riders may take fewer trips which will ultimately lead to lower earnings,” the statement continued.
Mbelengwa said the completely rejected the company’s explanation.
“Uber must stop calling us partners when they don’t consult with us. Who have they consulted with?” he said.
“Regardless of their and our need to be competitive, if the cost of petrol has risen, the price should automatically go up, this is a no brainer.”
According to Mbelengwa, both companies are “reckless with how they price because they are not responsible for the vehicle”.
Uber’s statement mentioned the company held sessions held to get feedback from drivers. “We have invited over 3 500 different driver-partners across the country to sit down with us and share their feedback about their Uber experience,” it said.
On Monday, The Citizen reported that mysterious forces were behind a proposed nationwide shutdown of transport.
We can now confirm that the shutdown today only concerns e-hailing drivers. Emails in circulation which spoke of a wider shutdown to protest the petrol price seem to have come to nought, with minibus taxis and buses functioning normally.
However, Mbelengwa said he would invite meter taxi drivers to protest alongside them, a comment which some may find surprising as meter and e-hailing drivers are seen as bitter rivals.
“We are happy to have meter taxi drivers involved because we see the so-called tensions between them and us as being misdiagnosed,” he said.
“The meter taxis’ grievance is that competition isn’t fair. Uber and Taxify’s advantage as businesses is off the back of exploiting us drivers,” he added, explaining that he feels the two types of driver have a cause in common.
Despite the warnings issued by GTT, The Citizen confirmed this morning that both Uber and Taxify vehicles can be hailed today.
A Taxify driver, who asked not to be named, said he would be operating despite the warnings, but would be on the lookout to avoid anyone who may want to punish him for his decision.
Ironically, considering Mbelengwa’s problem with a lack of consultation with drivers on the part of Taxify and Uber, the driver said he had not been consulted about the strike.
“You can’t just organise something on this scale without getting input from all the drivers first,” he said.