What is be­ing done to end Uber at­tacks?

Saturday Star - - OPINION - KEVIN RITCHIE

THERE’S a low-in­ten­sity war be­ing waged on our streets, in our sub­urbs in fact, and no one seems to be tak­ing much no­tice of it.

Uber driv­ers are be­ing tar­geted by me­tered taxi driv­ers; in some in­stances they’re be­ing phys­i­cally at­tacked and their cars torched. A cou­ple of driv­ers have died.

Try to get an Uber ride when you emerge from the Sand­ton Gau­train sta­tion and you’ll see what I mean.

The driv­ers – if they don’t just can­cel the trip then and there – will phone you and ask you to stand a cou­ple of blocks away.

It’s not just Sand­ton; Gau­train’s Hat­field sta­tion in Pre­to­ria has also be­come a no-go area for some of them.

This week, traf­fic cops started pulling over Toy­ota Corol­las in Joburg and Midrand and im­pound­ing some of them for not hav­ing the re­quired per­mits.

There’s no talk of me­tered taxis be­ing pulled over, even less of them be­ing im­pounded.

There cer­tainly doesn’t seem to have been any move­ment in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ar­son­ists who set three Uber cars alight in Sand­ton last week.

In­stead, the cops blithely pull over the Corol­las, walk around to the driver’s side and look for the tell-tale air-con-mounted cell­phone run­ning the Uber app. The driv­ers don’t have per­mits.

Some say they’ve ap­plied and have proof, which the cops ig­nore. Oth­ers claim they never had to have per­mits in the first place.

The net re­sult is that the Uber driv­ers are be­com­ing scared and frustrated.

One I spoke to this week said his earn­ings had halved in less than a fort­night.

There are too many no-go ar­eas, too much strife. It’s not worth losing your life, he said, for a R100 fare, when you have to make R3 000 a week to pay for the rental of your car and another R2 000 for fuel at the same time.

He’s se­ri­ously think­ing of get­ting out and do­ing some­thing else. He won’t be the only one. It’s a great sad­ness, be­cause Uber works. It’s re­vi­talised the mori­bund me­tered taxi in­dus­try with its in­sis­tence on new ve­hi­cles, vet­ted crim­i­nal record-free driv­ers, as­sur­ances on fares and to­tally em­pow­ered users.

Iron­i­cally, it’s all of this which makes it such a suc­cess and pre­cisely why the me­tered taxi driv­ers are so threat­ened.

But even if we ac­cept this as the un­der­ly­ing root of the strife, why is the of­fi­cial re­ac­tion so muted?

How many more signs do we need of this cri­sis? How many peo­ple must ac­tu­ally die be­fore the po­lice act?

We can’t even ar­gue that we have be­come in­ured to taxi vi­o­lence in this coun­try, be­cause the minibus taxis aren’t even in­volved – at this stage, they’re prob­a­bly a whole lot safer than Uber.

The ques­tion then is: who is in­volved in the vi­o­lence? Are they pre­vent­ing proper ac­tion from be­ing taken to stop this low-level war once and for all?

More to the point, though, where is Uber in all of this? Why isn’t it get­ting court in­ter­dicts to pro­tect its driv­ers? Why isn’t it scream­ing blue mur­der, lit­er­ally, from the rooftops?

I fear we are sit­ting on a time bomb that’s a whole lot big­ger than just an in­dus­trial dis­pute turned bloody.

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