By Desie Heita
WINDHOEK – The controversial mobile phone application Uber, which allows private drivers to offer taxi services at a cheap rate to cellphone users, has been launched in the Western Cape, South Africa, much to the annoyance of taxi operators.
The mobile application registers vehicle owners, usually with luxury vehicles, willing to offer transport services at a fee lower than the normal taxi rate to the public. In Windhoek, for instance, the Uber service would compete with the radio taxi market and passengers would only need to call the taxi on their cellphone and pay the fare with their credit or debit card.
Uber company is a new start-up IT company that is valued at nearly over US$17 billion (nearly N$190 billion). It was founded in 2009 and rose to prominence in 2012 with new funds from venture capitalists. It offers reservations for transport in luxury vehicles such as Mercedes, BMW and Lexus at rates cheaper than those offered by meter or radio taxis.
Recently under the package UberX it added a new range of vehicles that are not that luxurious but still flashy when compared to standard radio taxis. It is this service that is now being offered in South Africa. While the company has not yet made any formal announcement about its future plans for Southern Africa, taxi operators in South Africa this week complained of the competition from Uber. Their cries follow last week’s organised taxi strikes in London, Paris, Berlin and Madrid, with taxi operators in those countries saying the use of Uber goes against taxi operator regulations. The Western Cape metered taxi operators have now called on the government to put a check on Uber, with the chairman of the Western Cape Metered Taxi Council Ayob Baker saying Uber is operating illegally, according to the Timeslive.
“Uber operates illegally based on our legislation of transport services,” Baker claimed. The problem is that most of the vehicles Uber uses for its service have no operating permit. Uber uses cars that have “charter permits”, which charge a flat fee, and then the app calculates distances, which Baker insists is not allowed in South Africa. Metered taxis usually charge R11 per km while Uber charges only R7. He said the “Uber Black” app, which contracts mostly luxury vehicles, had no effect on his business but the launch last week of “UberX”, which uses mostly downmarket cars, could draw away some of his customers.
Uber’s local general manager, Anthony le Roux, said UberX uses registered metered taxi operators who have licences. “A lot of these guys are already working with us. It’s those guys who aren’t interested in working with us who are giving negative feedback,” said Le Roux.