Following another petrol price increase, Uber drivers are pleading with the company to increase fare prices to curb their inevitable financial losses.
Drivers in Pretoria and Johannesburg held a demonstration on Tuesday and attempted to hand over a memorandum of grievances to Uber in Pretoria.
Uber driver George Makhubela told News24 that, although there have been several petrol price increases in recent months, Uber has not increased its fares. As a result, drivers make far less money — and in some cases do not even break even on a trip.
In May, the pump price for a litre of unleaded 95 petrol in Gauteng increased from R14.48 to R14.97. This was followed by a 5.48 percent hike to R15.79 in June, and at midnight on Tuesday, the price increased by another 1.46 percent, taking it further into record territory at more than R16/litre.
"The prices have increased three times in three months, yet the fares are still the same. So we are pleading to Uber to please increase the fare — or reduce the percentage that they are charging us," said Makhubela.
"We make less, after Uber takes their 25 percent of the fare. We make almost nothing, sometimes, running at a loss."
Makhubela added that drivers faced another problem — deactivation without proper investigation or the opportunity to plead their side of the story, if clients should report them for misconduct or unprofessional behaviour.
"They say your account is on hold and they are investigating. Then, after two weeks, the account is deactivated without listening to your side of the story," he said.
A group of about 60 drivers danced and sang outside the Uber office in Pretoria, but were unable to hand over the memorandum because it was closed.
"We have gathered here to bring a memorandum to the Uber offices, only to find out that they are closed. This is what always happens when we want to bring the memorandum to them; when we want to give them our grievances."
Uber South Africa spokesperson Samantha Allenberg said she was aware of a group of drivers who planned to go offline on Tuesday in Johannesburg.
"We respect driver-partners as valuable partners with a voice and a choice, and we want driver-partners to feel they can talk to us about anything at any time," Allenburg claimed in a statement.
"Drivers are diverse in how they use the Uber app, and it would be difficult for an individual or group to holistically represent every driver on the app."
Allenburg added that Uber constantly monitored fares and examined consumer price sensitivities to ensure fares were correctly priced, so that riders continued to take trips and drivers had access to more fare-paying passengers.
"If fares were to increase, then riders may take fewer trips which will ultimately lead to lower earnings."
According to Uber, while the company completes a deeper study of driver economics, a temporary winter incentive was launched prior to the recent fuel-price increase in June to help reduce the impact of fuel increases.
"This is designed for driver-partners who do a certain [number] of trips and is calculated based on information provided by drivers and fuel-efficiency statistics of their vehicles," said Allenburg.
"We understand that fuel is one of the biggest weekly expenses for drivers, which is why drivers can also access rewards that help them reduce costs and keep more of their earnings. This exclusive programme provides deals such as fuel rebates, cellphone deals, maintenance and healthcare."