A “community of operators” are simultaneously driving for established rideshare service Uber and market newcomer Taxify, believing it is the only way they are able to make ends meet.
An Uber driver encountered by the Tatler in the southern suburbs last week revealed many drivers felt the 20 percent commission charged by Uber was taking a heavy toll on drivers. Taxify, on the other hand, asked between 13 percent and 15 percent commission, and, according to the driver, the Estonian-owned company which began operating in Johannesburg and Cape Town in April was far better at communicating with its driver-partners.
The Taxify app is almost identical to Uber in terms of operation, in that users pay for their trips using cash or card. The difference is that there’s a phone line available to non-app users.
During last week’s journey, the driver, who asked not to be named, showed the Tatler how easily he could switch between the two apps on his cellphone. While he was not able to connect online to both apps simultaneously, simply by closing one and logging in to the other, he was able to pick up the location of any potential clients who might have hailed the respective services.
“The introduction of Taxify has been very good for us. We need to earn a living, and we have had many problems with Uber,” the driver said.
“Besides the fact that they charge us more, we have found that they always take the client’s side even when the client was in the wrong. Uber doesn’t even want to hear your side of the story. They just believe the client and then block you from the service,” he said.
The driver added that more and more drivers were signing up for both services, particularly as Taxify was gaining in popularity in Cape Town.
“At the moment, I am working for both, so that I can pay off my car as quickly as possible. That should be around September or October. After that, I will definitely think about driving for Taxify full-time. They are so much better at communication with drivers. If they receive a complaint, they don’t just block you, but ask you what happened.”
The driver said he does about eight trips a day on the Taxify service, but this would be “much more” if and when he decided to leave Uber.
However Uber spokesperson Samantha Allenberg said drivers were “absolutely” allowed to work for other rideshare services.
“Uber has always been an open and non-exclusive technology platform,” she said. “We respect driver-partners as valuable partners. Drivers on the Uber platform in South Africa are diverse in how they use the platform. Drivers choose to drive with Uber for the flexibility and control they have. They choose when they drive, for how long, and can dictate their own schedule, day-to-day, week-to-week. That flexibility is why there’s no typical driver.”
She said some drivers owned their own transportation companies and used the Uber app to connect their drivers with riders to grow their business.
“Some people use the app to drive towards a goal – like a vacation for their family or a new computer. Then they won’t drive again for months until they need something else. Many work full – or part-time at other jobs.”
Ms Allenberg said there were a number of ways driver-partners could let the company know if they had individual concerns.
“We have 24-hour support service where partners with questions about the technology can reach us directly via email. We hold regular information sessions, where we can meet directly with individual driver-partners to answer any questions they may have.
“We are always talking with partners and taking their feedback on board. That’s why, even though we guaranteed earnings during the price cut in May, we reversed that decision when those price cuts didn’t work out for drivers.”
She said Uber’s rating system and platform did not favour a driver-partner or rider but rather encouraged “mutual respect” between them both.
For several months, a number of Uber drivers in Cape Town have complained about being “let down” by Uber.
Driver Julian Wenn said some 500 drivers had now aligned themselves with the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU) in the belief that the union would fight for their rights.
“Uber is a slave ship, and the drivers do not have any say. They exploit drivers and many drive for meter taxis and Taxify aside from Uber. It is also the government’s fault, which wants to get rid of all other taxi industries by pushing drivers against each other. They perpetuate taxi violence and war,” Mr Wenn said.
“If an Uber driver out there says that he is making a good living, then know that he is a liar. No one is making anything. Uber has oversaturated the market with an over supply of Uber vehicles on their platform in order to stimulate demand and not to let riders wait for rides for too long. However, because of this drivers suffer more while riders get the benefit of a lesser waiting period.”
Mr Wenn said if the rate was better for the driver then “this might still be sustainable for the drivers”.
“However due to petrol increases and rates on kilometres remaining the same, no driver, I repeat, not a single driver, can make enough to maintain unless they drive over a hundred hours a week. And there are loads doing that.
“But ask yourself: if I drive 100 hours a week, when do I rest, see my family or enjoy life? Uber is completely and utterly shameless. They are a slave ship, here to enslave Africans for the third, fourth, fifth time. You cannot make more, but you will make less.”
In a statement to the Tatler, the Uber SATAWU members said Uber frequently ran “so-called experiments” which ended up being permanent fixtures of operations.
“For example, their licensing fee went from 20 percent to 25 percent on Uber Black after they increased the per kilometre rate from R11 to R12,which means the drivers earn less. On a R50 trip a driver would get R40 after the 20 percent Uber fee after the increase to 25 percent the driver gets R37.90. Uber also increased their licensing fee to 25 percent for Uber X partners who joined from 2016 onwards,” the statement said.