Demand for Uber has been surging in places such as Johannesburg. (Gareth van Zyl)
Cape Town - Officials of the Western Cape provincial government have hit back at allegations that they’ve failed to properly regulate internet ride-sharing service Uber.
About 200 taxi drivers gathered outside the province’s Ministry of Transport and Public Works offices in Cape Town on Thursday to demand answers on the regulation of Uber.
The drivers demanded to speak to MEC for Transport and Public Works, Donald Grant, as they alleged that around 90% of Uber’s approximately 2 000 driver partners in the province do not have legal permits.
READ: CT meter taxis want answers over 'illegal' Uber
After Grant did not meet with the disgruntled drivers on Thursday, violence broke out as one Uber car had its windows smashed in the CBD.
Police also arrested 15 metered taxi drivers for forming an illegal gathering. The drivers are set to appear in court on Tuesday.
But Grant’s office late on Friday responded to the meter taxi drivers’ claims about Uber’s legality in the province.
“Operating licences were issued to 210 Uber partners in terms of the National Land Transport Act and in accordance with comments received from the City of Cape Town based on their Integrated Transport Plans,” said Grant’s office in email answers to Fin24’s questions.
“The Provincial Regulatory Entity issued these operating licences with clear conditions, which if not adhered to, could lead to the operating licences being withdrawn or cancelled.
“There is therefore no failure to regulate. The Department of Transport and Public Works and the City of Cape Town is investigating reports of illegal operations and will implement a joint enforcement plan to impound illegally operating vehicles,” said the department.
Meeting with meter taxis
On Friday, the spokesperson for the disgruntled metered taxi drivers, David Drummond, blamed the events on Thursday in the Cape Town CBD on Grant allegedly not sticking to an arrangement to properly respond to the drivers.
Drummond said that Grant promised to respond to the drivers two weeks after they met, but that four weeks later this had not yet happened.
"The result of what happened yesterday must be squarely laid at the door of the MEC for his failure to even respond to us,” Drummond told Fin24.
"Even a simple reply to one of our emails to say, ‘give me another week’, ‘give me ten days, we are working with it’, ‘I am busy with something’. Nothing, absolutely nothing. We can't lie to our members,” Drummond said.
Grant’s office confirmed to Fin24 that he and senior officials “met with nine representatives of the metered taxi industry on June 20 2016 to hear their concerns about illegal operations and a dysfunctional representative structure.”
Grant’s office said that he then agreed to issue a press statement on June 20 about the meeting and to approach the City of Cape Town to explain their analyses and grounds for supporting further metered taxi and e-hailing operating licenses on June 27.
Grant then indicated that he is still in the process of consulting with the City of Cape Town, after which interactions with Uber could then take place, said the department.
“There was no promise made to provide an answer by July 4,” added the department
“The minister will not be forced into a decision by clearly unlawful action and the various law enforcement agencies will take the usual measures.
“There is no excuse for violence and illegality while a process is under way,” said the department.
Meter taxi drivers’ opposition to Uber comes as demand for the internet app has exploded in South Africa since the service first launched in the country in 2013.
Uber driver partners now number around 4 000 in the country, according to the internet service.
But, subsequently, clashes between Uber and meter taxi drivers have sporadically occurred in cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban amid allegations of unfair competition.