‘You won’t write this story’
Metered taxi company’s allegedly heading for scrapheap
WITH THE SOCCER WORLD CUP around the corner, one of South Africa’s dominant metered taxi organisations is on the verge of being liquidated. Finweek understands that Safe Cab has had financial difficulties since at least the second half of 2008, threatening about 300 jobs. According to our sources at McCarthy Fleet Services, Safe Cab has failed to service its debt for the past six months and part of Safe Cab’s fleet of around 300 taxis is on the verge of being repossessed.
Different sources who worked for the company until the last week of January have told Finweek that around 80 former Safe Cab owner-drivers were laid off in the same week as its management simply demanded their vehicles.
“Without any notice whatsoever we were ordered to hand over our keys on Monday, 26 January,” says one driver. He says although the drivers paid their daily R500 lease fees (up from R400 in December 2008) to management, the remaining fleet was to be taken off the road during the same week and the vehicles were being repossessed by the company Safe Cab had bought them from.
Our source at McCarthy Fleet Services says Safe Cab’s fleet of around 200 Nissan Livinas and Tiidas was procured from the Woodmead McCarthy Nissan branch and that financial mismanagement at Safe Cab was to blame for the company’s problems. “They haven’t paid their debt for six months now,” says the source. “We haven’t repossessed the vehicles yet but I think that’s where it is going.”
Safe Cab MD Riaan Timm confirmed by phone that the company had indeed “gotten rid of some drivers for bad performance and theft”. He says those were drivers who misused their vehicles and weren’t bringing in any money because they alleged there was no business. “Thank God we’ve got a satellite tracking system that tells us how many trips and how many kilometres they did,” says Timm.
He says 90 people were “gotten rid of ”. “It’s not true the company is being liquidated and all our vehicles are on full maintenance lease.” He says the company simply took the vehicles from the drivers.
Asked if the drivers were replaced, Timm insists his company leases new vehicles to owner-drivers and therefore wouldn’t lease out old cars. “People pay off the vehicles from us,” is all Timm would say.
He also denied both the liquidation claims and allegations the company had any financial problems and told Finweek the company bought a new fleet of 1 400 vehicles in the third week of January “with R175m finance from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC)”.
Although it confirmed that Safe Cab has been granted a funding facility, the IDC denies it has received any of the money. “They’re yet to access it pending finalisation of certain processes,” is all Kugan Thaver, head of IDC Transportation, would say.
Asked about the 100 vehicles allegedly repossessed by McCarthy Fleet Services, Timm says the company terminated the agreement “by mutual consent” and Safe Cab returned the vehicles, as it has had problems with McCarthy.
Says Timm: “They sold us vehicles that were impossible. It’s not correct to say we’re in financial trouble.” Asked why the company had agreed to buy the “impossible models”, Timm said McCarthy changed the original vehicles “for some reason” and Safe Cab later discovered they couldn’t be used. He says those “problems” were the reason Safe Cab hasn’t been servicing its debt to McCarthy for six months.
When asked for more details, Timm invited Finweek to come to the company’s offices so he can discuss the whole issue because “we have nothing to hide”.
Another former Safe Cab driver says he quit on 22 January – the same day Timm claims to have received the “new fleet” – because it was hard to make the daily R500 required. “You get beaten up by the boss if you don’t have the money. The problem is he has bouncers. He moers people,” says the source, adding: “You pay for your own petrol, cellphone bill and still have to feed your family.”
When Finweek arrived at the Sandton Drive address for a meeting with Timm, he was busy in a meeting with two people, while four other suited gentlemen were waiting outside. Letters addressed to drivers hanging on the walls paint a picture of a company in urgent need of some cash liquidity.
“Please note that as from… December you have to cash up daily, not on the second day or a week later,” reads one (dated 9 December) and signed “The President”. Another one (dated 5 January 2009) reads: “Please note that as from 9 January the daily cash-up goes up to R500.” Drivers are again cautioned to cash-up daily. The author is “The President, Riaan Timm”.
Timm announced my turn to join him in the boardroom, “Where is this Nkosinathi (sic) who talks too much?” He again denied the liquidation rumours and lectured me – in an increasingly less than friendly tone – on the process of getting a
company into liquidation, of which he says none has happened to his company.
He said Safe Cab (of which he’s the sole director) was “backed by another company with a lot more money than Safe Cab could ever dream of ”. He says it was “a reputable” company about which he would disclose nothing.
Suddenly he reached for the door and peeped in the direction of the reception before returning. The dark, tall fat man who’d been milling around reception walked in and shut the door behind him. He leaned against the door, block- ing either entry or exit.
Meanwhile, Timm was right in front of me, his right hand fist half-clenched and his forehead almost touching my blunt nose. “Who’s your source? Who’s your f…ing source?” he demanded. His BlackBerry rang for the third time in less than five minutes. “Why must I deny the liquidation rumours? There’s no liquidation. Why must I deny it?” he barked into the phone.
To the relief of your diminutive reporter Timm cooled down and pointedly asked: “Have I threatened you? Did I hurt you? Am I armed?”
Another phone call came in. “Where the hell did he disappear to? How can he just disappear and never be heard of ?”
Timm was talking into the phone and lifted his head and looked me straight in the eye, while still talking. “People do disappear without a trace and never be seen again.” At that stage Jackson, the bouncer, was ordered to leave.
“You’re not going to write the story,” Timm told me. “Nobody has ever written about my company. You’re not going to write about it.”
Then he sat down and started talking about the company again, spelling out what a wonderful empowerment opportunity it is. “Everyone is at the same level of empowerment and the Government can never do that. It’s genuine empowerment and each of my drivers earns about R30 000/ month…”
Timm’s phone rang again and I made a quick dash for freedom.
IDC denies funding claim. Safe Cab