Uber under fire in South Africa

 ·21 Jun 2024

The South African Guide Dogs Association for the Blind (SAGDA) is proceeding with litigation against Uber South Africa for alleged discrimination against persons with disabilities in the country.

On 16 April 2024, the association, represented by legal firm Shepstone & Wylie Attorneys, launched an application in the Equality Court of South Africa sitting in the Johannesburg High Court.

In its application, the association alleged that persons with disabilities suffered “consistent, arbitrary and unfair discrimination” by Uber and its drivers, saying this was in contravention of the Constitution and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA) and infringed the Right to Equality and the Right to Human Dignity.

The legal firm alleged that it had become a “common issue” that persons with disabilities, particularly people with visual impairments who cannot drive their own vehicles, suffer discrimination from Uber drivers who refuse to pick them up once they realise that the person is visually impaired and accompanied by an assistance dog.

“Very often, these people are left helplessly stranded on the side of the road while the Uber driver charges them the cost of the trip, only for the next Uber driver to do the same thing.

“This type of discrimination not only violates Uber’s policies but also denies individuals with visual impairments their right to equal access to transportation services,” the firm said.

Under the PEPUDA, Shepstone & Wylie said it is “unequivocally clear” that discriminating against persons with disabilities who use assistance dogs constitutes a violation of their rights in terms of the Constitution.

“Assistance dogs are not merely pets; they are essential companions and aids for individuals with visual impairments, enabling them to navigate the world independently and safely.

“Denying access to individuals with assistance dogs not only infringes upon their right to equal treatment but also undermines their ability to participate fully in social and economic activities,” the firm said.

In its application to the Equality Court, SAGDA requested the Court to order Uber to, among other things:

  • Revise its Community Guidelines to set out the rights of persons with disabilities who are accompanied by assistance dogs;
  • Update its app to allow for better reporting of the discriminatory conduct of Uber drivers towards persons with disabilities; and
  • Implement training for all Uber drivers to ensure they understand their duty to prohibit and eliminate any forms of discrimination.

“This includes training Uber drivers to understand the rights of persons with disabilities and the role that the assistance dogs play in the lives of these persons,” the law firm said.

SAGDA has further requested the Court to order Uber to establish mechanisms for reporting and addressing complaints of discrimination.

Shepstone & Wylie noted that on 14 June 2024, Uber SA filed its answering affidavit to SAGDA’s application, in which it passed the buck onto UBER BV—headquartered in the Netherlands—which owns the Uber App.

“Uber SA argues that SAGDA should seek redress from Uber BV despite its own version that it provides support services to Uber BV in order to ensure compliance with South Africa’s regulations, such regulations being the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and PEPUDA,” the firm said.

As such, the law firm said it would be taking its Equality Court again on behalf of SAGDA against Uber SA further “in the coming days”.

Read: Uber vs the cheapest car in South Africa – with surprising results

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