E-hailing drivers, couriers to descend on Parliament

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E-hailing drivers protesting outside the Gauteng Public Transport and Roads Infrastructure offices in Johannesburg in March.
E-hailing drivers protesting outside the Gauteng Public Transport and Roads Infrastructure offices in Johannesburg in March.

E-hailing drivers and couriers plan to shut down Parliament Street in Cape Town tomorrow, in protest of government’s “non-responsiveness” to their call for the regulation of the e-hailing industry.

The threat comes after a group of drivers from e-hailing firms Bolt and Uber last week delivered a memorandum to Parliament, outlining their many grievances.

The drivers plan to return to Parliament tomorrow, this time accompanied by food delivery couriers, if they do not receive a response from government by the end of today.

Among their complaints, the e-hailing drivers, operators and couriers want government to identify e-hailing app organisations as transport companies instead of software firms, in order for them to be better identified and become subject to appropriate regulatory scrutiny and compliance requirements.

Furthermore, the grievances are centred on what they call “unprofitably low pricing systems” introduced by Bolt and Uber as part of their discounted offerings, and the “exorbitant” service fee/commission deducted by the e-hailing firms for each trip.

“This time around, drivers want answers for their grievances and they'll make sure the protest is felt. We are deeply affected by the exorbitant 20% to 30% commission and the unprofitable low discounts introduced by e-hailing app platforms, especially in light of the increased vehicle running costs, fuel hikes, high data costs, etc,” says one of the founders of the E-hailing Operators Interim Committee, during an interview with ITWeb, preferring not to be identified.

In terms of regulation of the industry, he told ITWeb that the drivers want government to sign the Transport Amendment Bill into law so that e-hailing firms will be recognised as transport companies and be forced to adhere to the National Land Transport Act (NLTA).

The Amendment Bill recognises e-hailing as a category of transport; however, president Cyril Ramaphosa has not signed it into law due to constitutional concerns relating to local municipalities’ transport planning functions.

“If the Bill is signed, this means government will regulate e-hailing prices according to section 66(3) of the NLTA, which requires them to do so through the minister of transport or MECs. The issue of drivers being hired only as independent contractors instead of employees will also be scrutinised by government,” he continues.

Other issues brought to light in the memorandum include illegal impoundment of vehicles by e-hailing firms and persistent safety issues. Driver partners also want formal operating licences to be issued to them.

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

Hungry for change

Duane Bernard, delivery driver and spokesperson for Uber Driver Partners SA, told ITWeb that Uber Eats couriers have many good reasons to join tomorrow’s strike. The couriers say they are “fed-up” with Uber Eats ignoring their request to negotiate the low delivery fees, and they are also calling for a re-look at the insurance cover offered by Uber Eats.

“Uber couriers plan to shut down our services across three cities tomorrow – Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban,” notes Bernard.

“These online platforms are running their businesses with no overheads with regard to assets. vehicles/bikes and phones, yet courier drivers are expected to cover all their vehicle maintenance and running costs . We demand Uber Eats to take a cut from their profits and for drivers/riders to get paid the rate we asked for in December last year, which is a pickup fee of R20 (up to 1km) and then a rate of R6/km thereafter.”

The current pickup fee is R10 and R4 per km thereafter.

Responding to the grievances, Frans Hiemstra, GM of Uber Sub-Saharan Africa, comments: “We take the concerns of drivers seriously and are currently engaging them directly, using our various engagement channels to work towards addressing the issues.

“We are committed to working with regulators in SA and around the world to develop a framework for drivers using tech apps. We welcome the ongoing process to formalise the transport industry and we are encouraged to be a part of the dialogue.”

Gareth Taylor, SADC regional manager for Bolt, told ITWeb the company supports regulation of the industry.

“Bolt’s fee structure is carefully determined to offer passengers a cost-effective transport service, and our focus is on keeping costs down and incentivising passengers to use the platform more, while ensuring drivers earn a good income. Bolt continually looks for ways to increase driver earnings,” he says.

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