Uber petitions City of Cape Town to stop hassling its drivers [Update]

Car hailing service Uber is petitioning the City of Cape Town to allow its drivers to operate freely across the city. The plea comes amidst news that some 200 Uber vehicles have been impounded by city officials in 2015.

In a blog post linking to its official online petition, the company points to the jobs it has created, as well as the safety of the city’s residents among the reasons its partner drivers should be allowed to operate freely until the obstacles for obtaining a vehicle operating permit are lowered.

“Since the launch of Uber in Cape Town nearly two years ago,” the company writes in the blog post, “Capetonians and tourists have experienced a new efficient, convenient and modern transportation option”.

“This means a safe and reliable ride in less than 5 minutes for tens of thousands of Capetonians,” it adds. “For thousands of driver partners, the Uber platform has provided an opportunity to earn a better living to provide for their families”.

It’s also made serious strides when it comes to corporate partnerships in South Africa. An example of this is the fact that users will be able to earn FNB eBucks as of 1 July.

The issue has been hanging over Uber’s head for some time now. In early January for instance, some 33 Uber cars were impounded thanks to new regulations imposed by the city.

At the time, Councillor Brett Herron told Memeburn:

Uber does not itself operate public transport services or vehicles. Every vehicle that operates a public transport service must have a public transport operating licence — this includes those vehicles that operate using the Uber hailing service. Thus, those vehicles that have operating permits to provide public transport and use Uber to source their customers are operating lawfully.

Read more: ‘Get to the uberCHOPPER!’: Uber celebrates first Cape Town anniversary with on-demand helicopter rides

Some saw the introduction of these regulations as bowing to pressure from local metered taxi drivers. In June 2014 their controlling organisation, the Western Cape Metered Taxi Council, began sending letters to Uber drivers saying that if they were found using Uber their permits would be removed.

Read more: The Western Cape Taxi Council is not loving Uber and its tech savvy ways

In February meanwhile its members marched in the Cape Town CBD, calling for Uber to be shut down.

Their argument was that the e-hailing service was flooding the market with illegal operators, and building a monopoly that did not bode well for drivers not signed up to the service.

For its part, Uber argues that it’s made continued overtures to both the city and the Western Cape government but that “there is still no clear route to obtaining vehicle operating permits for Uber driver partners”.

“A process that should take no longer than a few weeks has been dragging on for over 6 months and still no operating permits have been issued to Uber driver partners,” it adds. “Yet, it appears that operating licenses have been issued to large metered taxi fleet operators, favouring these incumbent operators”.

In light of this, it says it’s made the decision to continue to focus it efforts on “ensuring riders have access to a safe and reliable transport option, and drivers have access to increased economic opportunity”.

It also maintains that its own requirements for becoming a partner driver — which include a Professional Driving Permit, criminal background check, and commercial and passenger liability insurance — are far more stringent than those required for the operating permit.

Read more: 12 Uber cars impounded during J&B Met; UberYACHT launched

In fact, it goes as far to say that this regulatory requirement “has no bearing on the ensuring a reliable, safe transportation service”.

It also makes an economic argument, stating that “Uber is having a positive impact on Cape Town by creating more economic opportunity for drivers, providing more choice for consumers, reducing congestion and drinking and driving”.

The petition, which had just under 1 700 signatures at time of publishing, aims to eventually hit 5 000 signatures. While Uber doesn’t make it clear what it plans to do with the signatures, the terms and conditions to state that signing it allows the company to send a “letter or email on your behalf to your local officials, which may include your full name, city, and/or zip code”. Whatever happens, there’s no doubt that enough support for Uber will significantly bolster its cause with the city.

Update: Minutes after going live with this article, the petition needs fewer than 1 000 signatures to reach its goal.

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