FIRE

SA as­so­ci­a­tion files of­fi­cial com­plaint against the com­pany while ac­knowl­edg­ing the need to im­ple­ment tech­nol­ogy

CityPress - - Business - JUSTIN BROWN justin.brown@city­press.co.za

Eight re­gional taxi com­pa­nies and 150 in­di­vid­ual mem­bers of the SA Me­ter Taxi As­so­ci­a­tion have filed an ap­pli­ca­tion against Uber with the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion, al­leg­ing that the US-based com­pany is en­gaged in preda­tory pric­ing and anti-com­pet­i­tive be­hav­iour.

Preda­tory pric­ing is the act of set­ting prices low in an at­tempt to elim­i­nate com­pe­ti­tion.

As­so­ci­a­tion chair­per­son Faye Freed­man, who is also the CEO of Ea­gle Taxis in Dur­ban, con­firmed this week that her as­so­ci­a­tion had filed the com­plaint and the mem­bers in­volved with the ap­pli­ca­tion em­ployed about 1 000 peo­ple.

Uber is fac­ing a sim­i­lar case in New York, where taxi driv­ers are su­ing the city and its taxi and limou­sine com­mis­sion, al­leg­ing that the on­line trans­port com­pany is de­stroy­ing their busi­nesses, ac­cord­ing to the Guardian’s web­site.

“Uber needs to jump through the same hoops as lo­cal taxi op­er­a­tors,” said Freed­man, al­leg­ing that “Uber’s op­er­a­tions in South Africa are il­le­gal – they are not com­ply­ing with the Na­tional Land Trans­port Act.”

Alon Lits, gen­eral man­ager of Uber Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, said in re­sponse: “Uber does not own ... any ve­hi­cles, but rather li­censes tech­nol­ogy to in­de­pen­dent trans­port op­er­a­tors who can then con­nect with peo­ple want­ing a ride. These part­ners are re­quired to hold all the ap­pro­pri­ate op­er­at­ing li­cences.”

“The main rem­edy we are seek­ing from the com­mis­sion is to get Uber to change its be­hav­iour and model in South Africa,” said Freed­man.

If, in ad­di­tion, the com­mis­sion saw fit to fine Uber, then the ap­pli­cants would wel­come it, she added.

Taxi com­pa­nies were find­ing it hard to com­pete with Uber be­cause the pric­ing, es­pe­cially for its low-cost UberX ser­vice, was un­re­al­is­tic, she said.

Last month, Uber cut its stan­dard fare to R6 per kilo­me­tre in Joburg, Dur­ban and Cape Town for its UberX ser­vice in an ef­fort to boost its vol­umes.

The fare cuts re­sulted in protests by some of the plat­form’s driver part­ners. “We do not have the com­mer­cial mus­cle and ag­gres­sive tac­tics of Uber,” said Freed­man, adding that the SA Me­ter Taxi As­so­ci­a­tion would be look­ing at other ways to legally chal­lenge Uber in the fu­ture, but the sub­mis­sion to the com­mis­sion was a “good start”.

“There have been protest marches staged against Uber by taxi driv­ers in Cape Town and Joburg, and a march took place in Dur­ban on Thurs­day,” said Freed­man.

“We are not against Uber’s tech­nol­ogy. We will also be look­ing to im­ple­ment tech­nol­ogy into the in­dus­try.”

Itumeleng Le­sofe, spokesper­son for the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion, said the com­mis­sion had re­ceived a com­plaint against Uber.

“This com­plaint was filed in Novem­ber last year and is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he added.

Lits said that com­pe­ti­tion au­thor­i­ties around the world had wel­comed Uber’s im­pact. He quoted au­thor­i­ties in Poland, Ger­many and Mex­ico, which had all been pos­i­tive about Uber’s ben­e­fit on com­pe­ti­tion in the trans­port mar­ket.

In Spain, Lits said, where Uber was pre­vi­ously banned from op­er­at­ing by a judge’s or­der, the na­tional com­pe­ti­tion com­mis­sion took gov­ern­ment to court over re­stric­tive pri­vate-hire reg­u­la­tions.

“Uber ... tech­nol­ogy is fun­da­men­tally chang­ing how peo­ple move around their cities,” said Lits.

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