App-based e-hailing group Uber is calling on the Department of Transport to hold off implementing new proposed amendments to the National Land Transport Act.
According to the group, while it supports the government’s desires to update its transport laws to recognise modern services like e-hailing and ride-sharing, there are a few clauses which reference these technologies specifically, and have raised some concerns.
Chief among these is the requirement for e-hailing services to deny access to their system for any driver who doesn’t have the necessary operating licence.
Failure to do this can result in the ride-sharing company having to pay a fine of up to R100,000. Drivers are also subject to the fine, and also a potential prison sentence of two years.
However, Uber noted that in the cities where it operates in South Africa, drivers are facing massive delays in getting their permits from local authorities, or are simply not able to do so.
“Therefore, Uber proposes that the implementation of this clause, as well as any sanctions against drivers themselves, are delayed until the current challenges being experienced by Public Transport operators applying for operating licenses are resolved,” it said.
“The permit-issuing systems and processes of many of South Africa’s major municipalities are flawed and this has resulted in massive application backlogs and delays of up to 18 months in the issuing of operating licences,” Alon Lits, general manager for Uber in Sub-Saharan Africa said.
The group claims that some municipalities have even stopped issuing permits altogether, showing that the system simply does not work as it should.
As an alternative, the group suggested that the transport minister includes a clause in the amendments that allows drivers to operate legally if they have submitted fully compliant applications and are in possession of receipts, but where the operating licence has not yet been issued by the municipality.
“The idea of a receipt being substitutable for a licence in such circumstances already exists – with licence renewals, drivers who have submitted renewal applications are allowed to operate on the basis of their receipts,” it said.
Uber also highlighted two other clauses that have been proposed for inclusion in the NLTA amendments that should be reconsidered.
The first of these is a requirement that all e-hailing vehicles involved in transporting passengers will need to have special markings to identify them. This was a problem because of the targeted violence towards Uber drivers by other metred-taxi operators, the group said.
“Uber drivers are still experiencing very high levels of intimidation and even violence from some other transport industry participants and we are concerned that insisting on identification markings on vehicles could result in an increase in these targeted attacks,” Lits said.
“We are requesting that the Transport Ministry considers delaying this particular provision until such time as the violence and intimidation cease.”
Uber has also asked the ministry to reconsider the power granted to licencing authorities to define the locations or zones in which e-hailing vehicles are allowed to operate.
“This provision does not take into consideration the changes in the ways in which both metered taxis and e-hailing vehicles operate today; the legislation needs to recognise and reflect these changes rather than limiting the ability of drivers to pursue fare opportunities that are closest to their immediate location, wherever that may be,” the group said
Uber said it currently has over 12,000 active drivers in South Africa, where these drivers are often the breadwinners for their families.
“Therefore, the economic opportunity Uber provides has a direct impact on thousands of people.
“We estimate that if the backlog and delays around the current system for issuing operating licenses are not resolved before this clause comes into effect, there would be a loss of approximately 9,000 direct job opportunities and consequent negative impact on 27,000 people whose livelihoods depend on the e-hailing industry.”