Demand for Uber has been surging in places such as Johannesburg. (Gareth van Zyl)
Johannesburg - Metered taxi drivers used orange traffic cones from a drop-off zone outside Johannesburg’s Park Station to block off Uber drivers, say eyewitnesses.
Internet ride-sharing app Uber confirmed that its partner-drivers experienced intimidation from metered taxi drivers outside the central business district train station on Thursday morning.
Uber passenger, Celicia Serenata, told Fin24 via email that she was among those affected by the incident when she ordered an Uber at 08:23 on Thursday.
Serenata said she noticed on the Uber app that the car she ordered kept going round in circles.
“I then noticed that on all four corners of the station, metered taxi drivers were blocking drivers from collecting passengers,” Serenata told Fin24.
“They used an orange cone they took from the drop-off zone.”
“There were two individuals that physically prevented me from getting into an Uber car - the third one I had ordered,” Serenata added.
Another Uber passenger at Park Station on Thursday morning, Samantha Aria, told Fin24 that she also saw metered taxi drivers using cones to block off Uber drivers in the drop off zone.
“While I was waiting, there were three guys outside - I saw them and they looked a bit suspect, and they were sort of running around, and they had those traffic cones,” Aria told Fin24.
“And so when certain cars would come, they would put the traffic cones down in front.
“They’d walk into the drop off area and then they’d walk back out,” Aria said.
The metered taxi drivers were also telling passengers that there were no Uber cars available in the drop off zone, Aria said.
“The Gautrain security was just standing there looking at them,” Aria added.
Serenata told Fin24 that she saw four Gautrain security guards doing nothing regarding the situation.
Serenata said she also called the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) who told her that they had dispatched a unit.
The officer who arrived then shook hands with one of the drivers and there was no action, added Serenata.
“The lack of action from both Gautrain security and Metro Police was deplorable,” said Serenata.
Gautrain explains security
Thursday morning’s incident outside Johannesburg's Park Station is just the latest involving metered taxi and Uber drivers.
Just last month, metered taxi drivers stoned two Uber cars and JMPD vehicles outside the Sandton Gautrain station, an incident that left three officers injured.
But officials from the Gautrain told Fin24 they don’t have authority to enforce protection outside the stations.
“Whilst we do everything in our control to ensure the safety and security of our passengers within the Gautrain premises, we have no jurisdiction to police the areas outside the stations and rely on the JMPD and SAPS (the South African Police Service) in this regard,” Kesagee Nayager, Gautrain Spokesperson, told Fin24.
However, Fin24 understands that Gautrain officials have requested more help from the JMPD and SAPS in light of recent violent incidents outside Gautrain stations.
SAPS arrived on scene
JMPD officials referred Fin24 to SAPS for questions regarding Thursday’s incident outside Park Station.
Captain Kay Makhubela of SAPS told Fin24 that there was no cause for concern when police officers arrived on scene outside the Gautrain station on Thursday morning.
SAPS also didn’t see metered taxi drivers putting up orange traffic cones around the station to ward off Uber drivers.
“When the police arrived there, nothing was happening,” Makhubela said.
“There was information that Uber would fight with the metered taxi around the area. So, the police went in and monitored and checked,” Makhubela told Fin24.
“But there was no fight at all. But the police are still monitoring the area,” Makhubela said.
The spotlight is increasingly on anti-Uber violence and intimidation in South Africa as government officials moved to comment on the matter this week.
On Monday, Parliament’s transport portfolio committee chair, Dikeledi Magadzi, said conflict between Uber partner-drivers and metered taxi owners needs to be resolved before lives are lost.
Meanwhile, local Uber spokesperson Samantha Allenberg told Fin24 on Thursday that “this intimidation, caused by a small number of metered taxi drivers, only underlies why people are increasingly choosing safe, reliable alternatives like Uber.”