Uber faces severe challenges in South Africa, including cars in a dilapidated state, bad drivers, frequent cancelled trips, driver strikes, and passengers being attacked and robbed.
When Uber was launched in Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town in 2013, it was an exceptional service.
The cars were top-notch, the drivers were professional and well-trained, and Uber offered extraordinary service levels.
Even when UberX was launched in 2014 to offer a more affordable alternative to the high-end UberBLACK service, it remained exceptional.
Under the former general manager of Uber Sub-Saharan Africa, Alon Litz, vetting cars and drivers was core to ensuring comfortable and safe rides.
Fast forward ten years, and Uber in South Africa is a shadow of its early days. Complaints about poor experiences dominate discussions about the service.
Many passengers complain about Uber drivers arriving in dilapidated and unroadworthy vehicles in poor condition.
Drivers are also far less conscientious than a few years ago. They don’t use air-conditioning, drive on empty tanks, and often don’t follow the road rules.
Another problem is that the service has become unreliable, with drivers regularly cancelling trips, leaving riders stranded.
Well-known media personality Bruce Whitfield described what many Uber users experienced in recent years.
“This morning saw my Uber driver fail to terminate the ride at the airport and go for another 25-minute jaunt,” he said.
He added that it was challenging to communicate with Uber via its support channels, adding additional stress to users.
These experiences show that quality control at Uber is nowhere close to where it was when the service was launched a decade ago.
However, this is not where the problems end. Recently, many people complained about being attacked and robbed when taking an Uber.
The Sunday Times recently reported that Johannesburg resident Kayleigh Marx and a friend were attacked and robbed in an Uber while out in Pretoria. She believes the driver orchestrated the attack.
Police confirmed it was not an isolated incident. They said four such cases have been opened at the Brooklyn police station and two in Garsfontein in the past month.
Numerous similar cases have been reported, with Uber saying it was very concerned about the situation and has launched an investigation into the matter.
Another sign of Uber’s collapse in South Africa is that the problems do not only come from clients – its drivers are also unhappy.
Last month, Uber drivers in South Africa threatened to shut down operations to protest ongoing safety concerns and low pay.
Many drivers engaged in strike action in July to have their complaints about the low pricing of rides and the 25% service fee heard.
Daily Investor asked Uber for comment about these problems, but the company did not respond by the time of publication.
An Uber spokesperson told Daily Investor that the safety of drivers and riders is their utmost priority.
“We have launched several industry-leading safety features over the years, including features dedicated to the South African market,” Uber said.
These include an in-app emergency button, Audio Recording, RideCheck, and Safety Check-up.
Uber’s general manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, Kagiso Khaole, said an internal investigation of the safety incidents that were reported to them showed they were perpetrated by third-party individuals and not by drivers on the Uber platform.
“Some of the cases reported took place as a result of the alleged victims getting into the wrong vehicle,” he said.
“We are in touch with law enforcement officials to provide any information that will assist with resolving the cases.”
Regarding vehicle quality, Uber said it has vehicle standards, including quality and age, that drivers need to follow as part of the company’s requirements to sign up. Every vehicle must also pass an independent annual inspection.
The vehicle eligibility criteria differ per product offering to ensure the experience is what riders expect.
In terms of vehicle age, Uber has updated its policy as a guideline for drivers for certain types of rides and extended the vehicle age requirement from a minimum of 5 years to 8 years for all products.
The Comfort category will continue to have a 5-year age requirement which was implemented from June 2023.
Uber said that, while the reasons for cancellation of short trips vary, one of the reasons is driver preference, with some focusing their attention exclusively on longer journeys.
Traffic congestion, made worse during bouts of load shedding, also plays a role in drivers avoiding shorter trips in built-up areas.
It is an issue Uber is working to resolve. “We increased the fares on short trips to make them more attractive to drivers,” it said.
“While we have seen some improvements, we know that more interventions are required to address this.”
Uber added that it continues to be open to having discussions with drivers in an attempt to understand their concerns.
In the last month, Uber engaged with the Soweto E-hailing Association, Western Cape E-Hailing Council, Metered Taxi Associations and many other structures and government departments.
“So far, we are forming workable solutions for the benefit of an inclusive ride-sharing industry whilst upholding the independent status of drivers operating on the app,” it said.