Uber takes us for a ride, lament drivers

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Cape Town’s Uber drivers claim the U.S.-based company is exploiting them, echoing a global trend where drivers elsewhere have made the same claim.

The online transport network, headquartered in San Francisco, has drivers in 60 countries connecting to customers via its mobile app. Customers pay Uber directly and the company then pays its networked drivers 75% of the fee.

Its Cape Town drivers are unhappy about a “unilateral” decision to drop the rate from R7 per kilometre to R6. Most other private taxi companies charge R10/km.

Drivers say this was introduced in early April, just before the petrol price increased, eating into their livelihood.

Uber driver Julian Wenn from Parow Valley said he is yet to see a decent income from working with the transport network.

Wenn works as a musician but wanted to work with Uber to secure a stable income.

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EXPLOITED: Julian Wenn, left, and Sibusiso Mdlazi are among Uber drivers in Cape Town who say they are being exploited. Drivers say the company is charging customers too little while the cost of petrol has increased, affecting their income. Picture Yazeed Kamaldien

Wenn rents a car for R3000 a week, has to fill it up with petrol and buys airtime and Internet data for his phone to operate as an Uber driver.

Uber also takes a 25% cut off every trip a driver makes.

“Some of us rent cars and that means we have more expenses. I make about R4800 a week but have expenses. After paying for the car I have only R1800 left and need to buy petrol and airtime,” said Wenn.

“I could make more money if the rate was R7 a kilometre. We need to spend much more time on the road now to make money since they dropped the rate to R6 a kilometer.

“I’m not making money. Every week I’m chasing just to meet my expenses. Uber isn’t working out for me.”

Uber driver Sibusiso Mdlazi from Gugulethu said he does not have to pay that much money to rent his vehicle. He gives 40% of his earnings to the owner of the vehicle he uses.

“Uber decreased the rate because they want more customers. But that hasn’t happened. They said it’s an experiment. We want the fees to be reinstated to R7 a kilometre,” said Mdlazi.

“Customers even told us they don’t mind to pay R8 per kilometre. We need the rate to increase because the petrol went up.”

Another driver, who did not want to be publicly named, said there were a number of dissatisfied drivers who did not want to named “as they do not want to lose their contracts with Uber”.

“Drivers are easily dismissed, without any hearing or legal proceedings. Uber has a huge database of potential divers. They are exploiting the situation where there is a high rate of unemployment,” he said.

“Many drivers say this is their only employment at the moment. And some drivers work more than 100 hours a week just to make a living.

“I have worked with Uber since October 2014. They provide a platform for a client and driver to meet. But it is not viable anymore.”

This driver said when they signed up, they were told the could make R25,000 a month working with Uber.

“A lot of people are in debt because of cars they bought when signing up with Uber. Now a lot of people have left the Uber business,” he said.

“Uber unilaterally makes decisions when it comes to pricing, specials, whatever they do. When they increase their licensing fee, they tell you. The pie gets smaller. You struggling to make ends meet.”

Drivers said they make an average between R3000 to R5000 a week. A great week’s income would total R7000 but you “have to work 18 hours a day for that”.

Uber spokeswoman Samantha Allenberg said they cut the rate from R7 to R6/km because “during winter months riders (consumers) tend to venture out less and this can be tough” for taxi drivers.

“Over the years, we’ve learned that the single most effective way to help driver-partners get more trips is to cut prices for riders,” said Allenberg.

“A driver-partner who is logged into the Uber app is doing one of three things: sitting idle while waiting for a trip, on their way to pick up a rider, or carrying a rider to their destination. The third scenario is when a driver-partner is earning a fare.

“Higher demand means driver-partners will spend more of every hour moving people, less time waiting around and therefore earn more money.”

Allenberg added: “If we don’t see trips increase due to the price cut, we will reassess the cut.”

Uber was meanwhile interested in both the safety of its driver-partners and consumers, said Allenberg. The company could “remove the driver’s or rider’s access to the Uber platform” if any abuse of the system was discovered.

Uber meanwhile compared favourably to other private taxi services in Cape Town, when it came to the consumer’s pocket.

But taxi drivers from a host of other companies operating in the city said Uber was undercutting it. They said they would not work with the company though.

Saul Takaendes, a private taxi driver with his own permit, earns R10 per kilometre and needs to pay only R1,000 a month for his permit.

“Uber is undercharging. It’s competition and customers go for cheaper taxies. I’ve lost a lot of customers,” said Takaendes.

“It’s not viable to charge R6 per kilometer. Uber must increase their prices.”

Midwell Nkawule, a driver with Marine Taxis, said they charge R10 per kilometre. He buys petrol for the company’s car he uses and pays R4 off each kilometre to the company.

“You can make money but I lost too many customers since Uber started,” said Nkawule.

“We don’t get airport trips and long trips like to Cape Point anymore. People go to Uber for that. They are very cheap. They must put their prices up.”

Around the world, Uber is facing a driver backlash and has been banned in some countries. It has withstood ongoing protests, multi-million rand law suits and government opposition.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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