Uber drivers in South Africa have protested the company’s decision to cut its prices during the winter months—but their reasons for doing so aren’t as straightforward as you might imagine.
The company’s reasons for cutting fares for UberX, the lower cost Uber option, are simple enough: It expects lower demand due to the weather, so it wants to stimulate demand by offering cheaper rides. The per-kilometer price in major cities is dropping from R7.50 ($0.49) to R6 ($0.39), while the per-minute rate is also falling by a similar proportion.
The drivers who protested the decision (200 according to local reports, though Uber claimed it was more like 50) had various complaints.
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Obviously, the prospect of making less money was a big complaint—particularly as there has just been a large hike in fuel prices. To this, Uber said it expected the fare cuts to stimulate enough demand to make up for the lost money, and that it will monitor the metrics on a day-to-day basis to see how the plan is working out. It also offered drivers minimum-payment guarantees.
However, there was another grievance that is far more locally relevant.
As Uber driver Munesu Gurure argues in the above video from Eyewitness News, Uber drivers don’t want their service to be priced so low that they come into direct competition with the traditional minibus taxi sector.
“They will be enraged and they will come after us,” Gurure said.
Minibus taxis are the main form of transport for many South Africans, and competition between rival taxi associations have frequently turned violent—their turf wars have on many occasions truly merited the term “war.”
Gurure referred to a recent incident in which an Uber driver was killed, probably a reference to the shooting of Webb-Law Chehore in Cape Town last month (though no motive has as yet been established).
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Last July, Uber had to ask the police in Johannesburg to protect its drivers and passengers after several passengers reported being coerced into taking metered taxis.
This isn’t just a South African problem. Uber drivers have also been attacked in Kenya, with the violence linked to anger in the traditional taxi sector. The recurring anti-Uber protests in France have also sometimes turned dangerous for Uber drivers.
A lot of attention gets paid—rightly—to the safety of Uber’s passengers, but the safety of its drivers can also be a real issue. This is obviously not the fault of Uber, but rather of those perpetrating the violence.
Nonetheless, it’s clearly a problem that Uber’s drivers in some places, such as South Africa, have to take into account.