E-hailing mediation looks to finally iron out industry troubles

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 02 Aug 2022

The Gauteng Department of Roads and Transport is meeting with e-hailing industry stakeholders today, as part of the commencement of the mediation process that seeks to tackle industry conflicts.

The Gauteng e-Hailing Partners Council (GEPCO) and the executives of e-hailing firms Uber and Bolt are locked-up in talks with Gauteng MEC for public transport and roads infrastructure Jacob Mamabolo, in the first phase of a process that is expected to result in the parties reaching an agreement in relation to several contentious industry issues.

The mediation process 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 challenges faced by e-hailing drivers and operators in the sector.

These include what they label “exploitation”, low wages, safety issues, rider fare structuring and the urgent need for regulation of the sector.

The mediation process kick-starts with a preliminary two-day meeting taking place today and tomorrow in Sandton, following a series of engagements between the department and affected parties to find sustainable and amicable solutions to their challenges.

In October 2020, e-hailing drivers and operators marched to the Gauteng Transport Department to share their grievances with the MEC; however, their cries fell on deaf ears. A year later, another protest was held outside the same offices. Following the protest, Mamabolo suggested that prior to going the regulation route, all parties involved should meet and settle their differences.

“Our expectations going into this meeting are that there be no further delays in kick-starting the formal mediation process, which looks to address several issues that we’ve been complaining about for years,” says Melithemba Mnguni, provincial secretary of the GEPCO.

“When we met with the MEC, we had requested the implementation of section 66.3 and section 40 of the National Land Transport Act, but he opted to propose the mediation process between the e-hailing firms, the operators and the drivers, because he said our issues are broad and the regulation route would not address all of the issues that we have raised to him.”

The mediator, advocate Janine Khan and the administrator, Motsoeneng Bill Attorneys were appointed last year to work together to engage the parties during the formal mediation process expected to officially start in the coming days, adds Mnguni.

The ride-hailing service business model is premised on a principle of not employing partner drivers but rather allowing them to use the technology, in exchange for commission.

Jacob Mamabolo, Gauteng MEC for public transport and roads infrastructure.
Jacob Mamabolo, Gauteng MEC for public transport and roads infrastructure.

Over the past year, several protests have been held by the e-hailing drivers and operators, with issues around the percentage split between the taxi service, drivers and vehicle owner remaining at the centre of the dispute.

Bolt drivers are charged 20% commission, with an additional 5% booking fee deducted from each trip. Uber takes a 25% commission, with a booking fee of 3%.

With the rising inflation and petrol prices, the drivers and operators have been urging the e-hailing companies to lower the commissions and increase rider prices so that they can earn better wages.

Furthermore, the industry is plagued by violence, with many drivers being victimised and harassed over the past few years by metered taxi industry rivals who fear losing customers.

Vhatuka Mbelengwa, national e-hailing spokesperson for the Private Public Transport Association of SA, notes: “The MEC promised to release a report at the end of June 2022 detailing the challenges and opportunities of the industry, but this has not happened.

“Therefore, as an industry, we hold no hope for any fruitful outcome of this mediation process. In fact, it’s rather disappointing how the MEC is committed to saving this exploitative relationship [between operators and e-hailing firms] rather than move to regulating the sector to support local businesses trying to emerge rather than being held victim by those responsible for monopolising the e-hailing sector.”

Yesterday, Mamabolo welcomed the commencement of the mediation process.

“We applaud all parties for agreeing to participate in this process. We look forward to a fruitful mediation process, where all parties will cooperate to ensure successful resolution to all issues.

“The department values GEPCO as an important stakeholder in the e-hailing industry and encourages all public transport stakeholders and partners to work with them. These discussions are crucial to our #SmartMobility vision of integrating all modes of public transport to provide an efficient, safe, reliable and sustainable transport system in the province.”

Mamabolo added the department’s mission of creating a seamless, integrated transport system requires that there be peace and stability.

“Successful integration of all public transport systems requires us to work together to find innovative ways to resolve issues and minimise violence in the sector. It is through negotiations that we can achieve that, and we are hopeful the mediation process will be successful.”