E-hailing drivers, operators protest outside Gauteng transport dept

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 09 Mar 2021

Hundreds of e-hailing drivers and operators descended on the offices of the Gauteng Public Transport and Roads Infrastructure in Johannesburg, in protest of “non-responsiveness” from MEC Jacob Mamabolo.

E-hailing drivers from Uber, Bolt and InDriver nationwide have downed apps today as they urge government to intervene in what they call “terrible working conditions”.

The protest comes after a meeting was held in October last year between the department, various e-hailing governing bodies and government stakeholders, to bring to light several challenges faced by e-hailing drivers and operators in the sector.

Among their key complaints listed in a memorandum delivered to the MEC’s office at the time, was exploitation, low wages, safety issues and the urgent need for the regulation of the sector.

They also called for the establishment of a new ad hoc committee made up of several stakeholders from the Department of Transport, South African Police Service, Gauteng Department of Community Safety, the Competition Commission, e-hailing operators and the South African National Taxi Council, among other entities.

In an interview with ITWeb, the E-hailing Operators Interim Committee said it is the Department of Transport’s role and responsibility to ensure healthy working conditions in the e-hailing sector; however, since the last meeting, they have not heard any report back from the MEC.

“This is an outcry against exploitation and human rights abuse by these e-hailing app companies for their manipulative stunts of presenting themselves as software companies and not transport companies, to avoid taking responsibility and be subjected to relevant transport regulations, which will ensure fair wages and better working conditions for all drivers,” says one of the founders of the E-hailing Operators Interim Committee.

“We want the ad hoc committee to be established as soon as possible and start executing its purpose to resolve the many issues between e-hailing companies, the drivers and operators – and save lives, livelihoods and enable justice, law and order to prevail.”

While the protest is based in Commissioner Street, Johannesburg, the E-hailing Operators Interim Committee says drivers nationwide have also joined the protest in solidarity, by going offline.

Drivers parked outside the Gauteng Public Transport and Roads Infrastructure offices.
Drivers parked outside the Gauteng Public Transport and Roads Infrastructure offices.

No agreement reached

E-hailing bodies have been battling the same issues regarding working conditions and high commissions for over four years, without reaching any agreement with Bolt and Uber, and they are now calling for government’s involvement.

The local ride-hailing industry is already in decline due to the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis.

Last year alone, four protests were held by the e-hailing drivers and operators, with issues around the percentage split between the taxi service, drivers and vehicle owners remaining at the centre of the dispute.

Bolt takes a 20% commission from each trip, with a booking fee of 5%, while Uber takes a 25% commission, with a booking fee of 3%.

Another bone of contention is safety issues – with several drivers losing their lives at the hands of criminals last year, according to the E-hailing Operators Interim Committee.

Uber and Bolt say they are aware of the protest held in Gauteng; however, not all drivers are participating.

“Bolt is aware that a small number of drivers in Johannesburg are choosing to stay offline in protest today.Apart from slightly longer waiting times, the protest has not impacted passengers’ ability to hail a ride through the platform, as there are enough drivers who have chosen to not participate in the protest action and stay online to meet demand,” says Gareth Taylor, country manager of Bolt South Africa.

The companies say they respect every driver’s right to protest, and ask drivers to do so legally, peacefully, and without impacting the rights of other drivers who choose to continue to operate and earn an income.

“We are aware of a group of e-hailing drivers who plan to protest. Uber drivers have a number of established channels of communication and support to raise individual concerns, such as 24/7 in-app and phone support, and daily office hours. We are committed to our partnership with drivers and we will continue working to improve the experience for and with drivers,” says an Uber spokesperson.