A Taxify driver counts himself “very lucky to be alive” after three passengers attacked him and drove away with his car.
André Terblanche, has returned to work since the incident on Monday January 22, but is still shaken up.
“I look at everyone suspiciously, but what can we as taxi drivers do? This is our livelihood.”
The CBD resident told the CapeTowner that the incident took place at 9pm.
“I was driving home when I got the pick-up alert and it was on the corner of Roeland and Buitenkant streets, so I accepted the request.
“Three guys got into the car. They were foreign, but one could hear they were living in Cape Town for a while as they had the accent.”
The men said they were on their way to Stellenbosch and that they had to pick up their aunt at Wembley Square in the CBD.
“When we got to Wembley Square, they called their aunt, who was apparently still inside, when the man sitting behind me grabbed me, and the one sitting next to me took off my glasses and pepper-sprayed my eyes. The other man proceeded to the driver’s side and pulled me out.”
Mr Terblanche asked the men what they wanted, and they said “the car”.
“I gave the car and they took about R20 out of my pocket, and my cellphones.
“I went straight to the cop shop and within an hour, the police had recovered the vehicle in Nyanga.”
He described the incident as bizarre, as Taxify clients pay with credit cards and hardly carry money.
“Also, the car has satellite tracking. So basically they did all of that just for R20 that I had in my pocket. The phones are blocked, and those are now worthless.
“I’m the one suffering the most because my glasses are gone, those cost a couple of thousand rands, and my phones are gone.”
Although Mr Terblanche, who has been a taxi driver for years, had not hear of an incident like this one before, the investigating officer in the matter, Warrant Officer Jeremy Steyn, said it is a regular occurrence in the city centre.
“It happens with meter taxis or taxis with the apps, such as Taxify.
“These are probably people who want to get home but don’t have money to pay the drivers, so they steal the cars. The cars are always recovered, but its difficult to arrest the suspects as these drivers pick up many people in a night.”
He said suspects are usually picked up near the clubs, mostly in Long Street, and halfway to the destination the passenger pulls out a gun and hijacks the driver.
“It’s difficult to say how to prevent this because the modus operandi changes, the weapons change, and the suspects are not from the city.”
He said a case of carjacking has been opened, but no one had been arrested. “We are trying to track the number from which the call came, the investigation is ongoing,” said Warrant Officer Steyn.
Cape Town Central police station spokesperson, Captain Ezra October, said the suspects were probably not prepared to pay the driver, so they opted to steal the car. “We are talking to the taxi drivers in the community and urge them to be vigilant. We are also speaking to their bosses, and urge all taxi owners to put tracking devices on their vehicles.”
Mr Terblanche is scared because the pick up was legitimate, with the call being made through the app, yet the suspects were brazen enough to attack him and steal the car. “I assume that the phone (they used) was stolen, but it is so easy to download the app onto a stolen phone and make the booking. There is a glitch in the system that doesn’t allow passengers to be profiled. I don’t know how they will fix that. And although the car was found, I suffered the most damage – the pepper spray was not fun.”
Mr Terblanche said the only advice he can give other taxi drivers who find themselves in this situation is not to fight the suspects. “I have been carjacked three times and survived all three of them. I immediately ask what they want, and they usually tell you. Just give them what they want and let them get away from you as soon as possible. “
He said there is no way for taxi drivers to protect themselves because if the pick-up is rejected, it counts against the driver with the company.
Warrant Officer Steyn said he was not sure how to warn drivers. “I can’t tell them not to pick up customers after 9pm. All these drivers worry about is how they will make money to feed their families. Most of the time, if they are not severely injured, all they want is their cars back so that they can work.”
Taxify spokesperson Sinako Cetyiwe said they are aware of the incident and have been in contact with the driver. “We encourage drivers on our platform to immediately report any incident to us so that our team can investigate the matter and assist law enforcement in their investigation. We make contact with law enforcement if need be and we try to see the applicable parties and support them every step of the process.”
He said Taxify advises drivers to be aware of hotspots that the team communicates through the app. “We send out regular communications to drivers to warn them of potentially unsafe areas. We also encourage all our riders to use our card payment option to mitigate the risks related to carrying cash. We are also looking into ways to significantly improve driver safety. This includes means of technology, but also education and making sure we investigate every case in detail.”
Asked about client profiling, Mr Cetyiwe said the app is currently open to the public but soon more authentication methods will be put in place. He did not specify when. “We encourage all riders and drivers to always use precaution and be aware of your surroundings and stay away from our advised hotspots.”