It's becoming an all too familiar story: Uber drivers being threatened, attacked, or otherwise intimidated by disgruntled taxi drivers who accuse the car service giant of taking an unfair competitive advantage and monopolizing the transportation industry. The latest chapter is being written in South Africa, where Uber has now hired security guards to protect their drivers following protests that run the risk of turning violent. Witnesses say that Uber drivers have been harassed and threatened with guns, and as Melinda Bason told Eyewitness News of one particular incident, "[Taxi drivers] grabbed the keys from the ignition, intimidating him. There was a gun involved and intimidation with that weapon."
The hostility towards Uber drivers is nothing new. Just last week, Uber banned its UberPOP service in France following violent protests in Paris and across the country that left a few cars overturned, windows smashed, and both drivers and passengers rather shaken. The general consensus is that Uber is disrupting taxi drivers' business, impinging upon their income source. "They were screaming that they were taking away business from South Africa and Uber must go back to Germany," Bason said.
The taxi drivers are also cited as saying, "We are the meter taxi guys; you are not part of the public transport committee. You shouldn't have the right to operate here."
According to a statement from Uber's headquarters, increased security has resulted from " recent intimidation, caused by a small number of metered taxi drivers at the Sandton Gautrain and Sandton City." The statement continues, "We have been engaging with law enforcement and the Gautrain Station to assist with stopping this intimidation. In addition we have deployed security to these hotspots."
Despite the very public backlash against Uber, the company has remained defiant in its presence, noting in a blog post, "Uber is all about keeping Joburg moving -- bringing a safe, reliable, and flexible solution to urban transport at the tap of a button. For driver-partners, the Uber platform has provided an opportunity to earn a better living to provide for their families. Uber has created 2,000 working opportunities since launching in South Africa and could easily create 15,000 more in the next two years."
Apparently, there are no plans for the car service to back down anytime soon in the country, with the blog concluding, "Despite today's protest, Uber will continue to provide a safe, reliable, and innovative service to the people of Johannesburg, and ensure a safe and secure working environment for our driver-partners, meeting the consumer demands of the 21st century."