Meetings between transport stakeholders in Gauteng, to resolve the recent conflict between e-hailing drivers and minibus taxi drivers, ended with an agreement to establish a committee that represents all ecosystem players.
Several meetings took place in Soweto this week, attended by Johannesburg MMC for transport Kenny Kunene, the South African Police Service, Soweto Taxi Association, Soweto United E-hailing Association, e-Hailing Partners Council and the Soweto Parliament, among others.
The meetings sought to iron out tensions between taxi drivers and e-hailing drivers after violence broke out between the two parties in the first week of June in Maponya Mall, Soweto.
According to Times Live, an e-hailing driver was shot and wounded, and three e-hailing vehicles were torched, during an alleged attack on e-hailing vehicles by minibus taxi operators. During the incident, four other vehicles were damaged and three people were hospitalised.
Several days later, more violence erupted in Protea Glen Mall, Soweto, when e-hailing drivers were accused of trespassing on the territory of mini bus taxis and poaching their customers.
In an interview, Thato Ramaila, chairperson of the Soweto United E-hailing Association, told ITWeb: “The decision taken following the meetings this week, is that we form a committee with members representing various stakeholders, including the taxi associations, the e-hailing associations, the mall operations team and the security cluster in malls and shopping centres around Soweto.
“This committee will overlook the day-to-day operations between the e-hailing and taxi drivers around Soweto malls and areas that are difficult for drivers to operate in.”
Ramaila refutes claims made in media reports that e-hailing vehicles have been banned for three months from operating in Soweto malls and shopping centres.
“The truth is that we reached consensus that due to the current ongoing police investigations, we will request our drivers [Uber and Bolt] not to make pick-ups or drop-offs inside the malls for three days, not three months.
“As an official e-hailing body in Gauteng, we are obliged to assist with the ongoing investigations and not be associated with illegal taxi operators who are working inside these malls. We have also taken this decision for security reasons,” he adds.
Following the three days, e-hailing drivers will be allowed to make pick-ups or drop-offs only outside Soweto malls and shopping centres – unless they are transporting the disabled, women with new-born babies or elderly passengers, he points out.
“We’ve often had a peaceful relationship with the taxi drivers here in Soweto, as we know each other, but I believe the key thing that will help us all find solutions to these never-ending issues is regulation.
“How can it take over seven years for our government to pass the [National Land Transport Amendment] Bill? This is a reflection of lack of commitment and leadership – lack of laws creates an environment with dysfunctional people,” states Ramaila.
E-hailing drivers and operators have held protests over the past few years, marching to the Gauteng Transport Department as well as Uber and Bolt offices, to call for the introduction of a regulatory framework that would improve working conditions for the industry.
The sector is plagued by violence, with many drivers being victimised and harassed by metered taxi industry rivals and criminals.
In a statement released this week, the e-Hailing Partners Council says it is deeply concerned about the latest spate of attacks in Soweto.
“These attacks are just symptoms, yet the root cause is lack of regulation,” says Melithemba Mnguni, secretary of the e-Hailing Partners Council.
“The Transport Amendment Bill should have been signed into law by now to address the e-hailing legitimacy question. Despite an existing Practice Note, the Act should officially introduce e-hailing into the transport ecosystem and therefore level the playing field and enable co-existence among counterparts.”
While e-hailing mediation talks between all involved stakeholders have been taking place since last year, there has been no progress in most of the issues raised, according to the e-Hailing Partners Council.