Uber seeks changes to SA transport law

2015-09-02 15:24 - Gareth van Zyl
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Demand for Uber has been surging in places such as Johannesburg. (Gareth van Zyl)

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Johannesburg - Internet ride-sharing service Uber wants government to formally introduce a category that would cater to transporters who use technology.

On Tuesday, Uber headed to parliament to present its case to the portfolio committee on transport.

Uber briefed the committee on the internet ride-sharing service’s background, business model and the challenges it has faced in South Africa.

"Part of what we're trying to push for is an amendment to that National Land and Transport Act to introduce a new standalone category,” Uber’s head of sub-Saharan Africa, Alon Lits, told Fin24 on Wednesday.

Lits explained to Fin24 that Uber, which uses e-hailing technology, doesn’t fit neatly into current categories such as metered taxi or chartered service licences.

Uber therefore wants the National Land and Transport Act to include a category called 'transport network operator'.

“A transport network operator can be someone who is using technology as lead generation,” Lits told Fin24.

Lits explained that a transport network operator licence could also be applied for by other companies and drivers that use technology in the transport space.

Local regulation

Uber’s appearance in parliament this week came after the service has been in the spotlight in South Africa this year.

In June, Uber’s Lits said Cape Town traffic officials have impounded over 200 Uber cars this year because drivers for the internet service did not meet metered taxi permit regulations.

However, the Western Cape government granted over 100 metered taxi licences to Uber drivers in July.

The City of Cape Town said it further plans to introduce an e-hailing bylaw to cater for the likes of Uber, but Lits told Fin24 that this would be a “short-term solution” because e-hailing is a sub-category of metered taxi regulations.

Gauteng MEC for Transport Ismail Vadi also said in July that Uber must comply with metered taxi requirements in cities such as Johannesburg and Pretoria.

This call came after alleged intimidation from metered taxi drivers towards Uber partners.

Lits told Fin24 that Uber planned to have more discussions with the province in the light of Vadi’s recent comments.

But the province has yet to provide clarity on what could happen to Uber drivers who previously applied for charter service licences, Lits said.

New Uber drivers in Gauteng, though, are also applying for both charter and metered licences.

“There are some that are applying for charter services and others that are applying for metered taxis,” Lits said.

Cape Town and Johannesburg are not the only cities in the world where Uber has come under pressure from regulators and rival taxi firms.

In South Korea’s Seoul, officials have said the internet ride-sharing service is illegal, while metered taxi drivers in Paris took to burning cars earlier this year to express their anger at Uber.

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