Taking an Uber in Johannesburg is an Act of Civil Disobedience

There are two modern technologies that have made a huge difference on this five-week long trip — personal mobile wifi (mifi) and Uber. I’ll get to the mifi later, but let’s talk about Uber.

If you think it’s the tits in America, try it here in South Africa. Honestly, I don’t think I would leave my hotel without knowing I can pick an Uber up anywhere. It’s more about convenience than safety.

There’s public transportation and taxis here, but you don’t want to take it. Joburg is like Los Angeles in that it’s sprawling, not friendly for walking and the public transportation is not extensive.

The mid- to high-end hotels have their own taxi service, but Uber is just the way to go. It’s cheaper, there’s plenty to go around and the drivers have been pleasant and thankful.

You might have seen the taxi system in Johannesburg on TV. There’s a series of hand signals on what area you want to go. Then you’re riding with a group of other people. That’s for the local workers, not for the tourists, travelers and those with smartphones.

In doing my research of where to request an Uber at O.R. Tambo, a lot of disturbing articles and TripAdvisor discussions came up. Here’s what I found:

  • Uber operators fear attacks by meter cab drivers at OR Tambo — The Times, April 21, 2015. Basically, Uber driver were getting assaulted by cab drivers for taking their fares. “He said he was beaten by meter cab drivers while a client who had just landed in the country was in the car. The client fled fearing for his safety.”
  • Uber drivers intimidated & harassed in JHB — Eyewitness NewsUber says its drivers are being intimidated and harassed by meter taxi drivers who are unhappy that they have to share the same routes in Sandton and other major areas. 
  • Then there’s this discussion on TripAdvisor on Uber at O.R. Tambo — “All I can say is be very careful. As I came out of the airport I was almost ambushed by supposed taxi drivers. It appears they run a monopoly along with law enforcement which is rather disgusting and disappointing.”

Not good! When I landed, I was panicking a little because I didn’t want to be beaten and handcuffed on my arrival in Johannesburg for not taking a taxi.

So I used my past experience in getting Uber at airports — always go to departures level or area and pick up your Uber there. If that doesn’t work, go to the nearest car rental place or hotel. There is a train at Johannesburg Airport that you can take to city center, but my hotel isn’t near there.

In any event, I got to Terminal B Departures and fired up the app. The driver accepted and was eight minutes away. So I hid inside the terminal instead of outside while looking at my phone. That would have been a dead give away that I was waiting for an Uber and a cop or taxi driver could have harassed me.

There I was inside the terminal looking at the little pin icon … 8 minutes … 7 minutes …. 6 minutes, etc. and watching the car icon make some funky moves. Now it’s going north, and south, and north again. When it got to the one-minute mark, I went outside and started checking license plates. Finally, my driver arrives and was able to make a clean getaway. Screw you over-charging taxis!

I told my guy about my research about Uber drivers getting harassed. He heard about it but has not been a victim. Since then, all the drivers have been wonderful and always want to know about Uber in New York. I tell them that it’s faster to take the subway because traffic is a nightmare 24-7 due to crazy taxi cab drivers.

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