For Joburg Uber drivers‚ smartphones are both a blessing and a curse

13 May 2017 - 14:21 By David Gernon
If you drive less than 50km a day‚ Uber will save you money.
If you drive less than 50km a day‚ Uber will save you money.
Image: TOBY MELVILLE / REUTERS

While requesting an Uber from one’s smartphone may be simple for riders‚ that same smartphone can put Uber drivers in severe danger if seen by the wrong people.

In some areas of Johannesburg‚ like around the Gautrain Park Station‚ in Braamfontein‚ meter taxi drivers have learned to spot a smartphone on the car’s dash as a signal of an Uber driver.

Antonnete Manquengue‚ who has been driving for Uber for almost a year said drivers know not to go near the Gautrain station for fear of violence from the meter taxi drivers.

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“They don’t want to see Uber drivers‚” she said.

“If you are going to pick up‚ you have to hide your phone. If you go to Gautrain in Joburg you are taking a risk. Your life is in danger.”

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Manquengue went last month to the station to pick up a client. When the meter taxi drivers found out she was an Uber driver‚ they threatened her and her client with a beating.

Only after one said they should not beat a woman was she able to drive away.

This week is the UN’s Global Road Safety Week and Uber has joined the effort‚ saying in a media release‚ “Uber values the safety of riders and driver-partners before‚ during and after every trip and this is why Uber continually improves their safety features.”

In an emailed note‚ Samantha Allenberg‚ Uber’s spokesperson in South Africa‚ outlined some of the steps the company has taken to address safety concerns‚ including a partnership that started in February with local private security firms to improve driver safety and a new identification check mechanism to ensure drivers and clients are both who they claim to be.

Uber has also promised to hire extra security for particularly dangerous areas‚ like around the Gautrain station. But Manquengue said the guards are scared too. “They just fold their arms and wait.”

Another driver‚ who did not want his name used for fear of retribution‚ went to the station to get a client during his second week driving for the company.

After meter taxi drivers attempted to break into his car and steal his phone‚ he has not gone back to the area.

While Uber does not release data on the number of reported attacks‚ an informal survey revealed a widespread problem: over a one week period‚ all eight drivers asked reported they had been attacked or intimidated in some way by meter taxi drivers.

It seems many of Uber’s safety initiatives focus on the rider. A media release this week as part of the UN road safety week details six steps for better safety. All of them concerned the rider.

The Competition Commission has decided to conduct a market inquiry that will in part look at the effect that the introduction of app-based transport services such as Uber and Taxify have had on the public transport sector. The inquiry begins on June 7.

TMG Digital/TimesLIVE

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