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Blocking of Bolt drivers is persecution, say operators

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 12 Jun 2024
Bolt says it continuously removes drivers and riders who have been reported for misconduct,
Bolt says it continuously removes drivers and riders who have been reported for misconduct,

Bolt drivers and operators are furious over the blocking of thousands of drivers on the platform, saying they are being “persecuted” by the e-hailer for no valid reason.

This, after Bolt announced last week that it had permanently blocked over 6 000 drivers from its mobile app during the past six months, due to non-compliance and safety-related matters.

According to Bolt, the move is part of its ongoing commitment to improve safety on its platform, by taking strict measures against any misconduct to ensure a safer environment for riders and drivers.

The company says it will continue to permanently block drivers and riders who have been reported for misconduct.

However, drivers told ITWeb they believe the blocking of the vehicles is unjustifiable, with some saying it’s a mere public relations (PR) exercise, at the expense of drivers.

Kenny Moretsele, Bolt operator and chairperson of the Ekurhuleni E-hailing Association, says: “As the industry, we are not happy about the blocking of so many drivers. We believe Bolt is using drivers as a scapegoat, as part of a PR campaign to make it look like they are doing something, yet they are staying away from the real issues, which are the root cause of crime on the platform.

“The persecution of drivers needs to stop; we've been very clear about this in our previous campaigns. Most, if not all, of the blocked drivers don't even know exactly what they are accused of. The only message they received is that ‘Bolt has noticed suspicious activities on your account’ and that's the only reason given for the blocking via the in-app messaging system.”

According to Moretsele, once blocked, drivers often send dozens of e-mails, enquiring as to the reasons prompting the action, but do not receive any valid reason from the company.

“In response, they only receive automated in-app messages, which are of no assistance. This must end, because it doesn't address the real issues relating to safety in the industry. Bolt has all driver documents and they are all within reach. Why can't they approach them and have an open communication about these transgressions?”

In the e-hailing industry, the permanent blocking of drivers – who work as independent contractors – includes the termination of the contractual agreement between the company and the driver.

A Bolt driver, who does not want to be named, tells ITWeb: “We are hurt by this blocking campaign, because these blocked drivers have invested a lot in their businesses. We are wondering how long it will be before we are blocked next. I think they are just kicking out these vehicles in order to replace them with the new Bajaj Qute, so that they make more money through that partnership.”

In an e-mail interview with ITWeb, Weyinmi Aghadiuno, acting head of regulatory and policy at Bolt Africa, refutes the drivers’ claims, saying the blocking of drivers is not about the Bajaj Qute vehicles, nor is it a PR exercise.

“This decision is to address safety concerns on the platform. Bolt has always been transparent with drivers on non-compliance transgressions. Our terms of use for drivers are published on our website,” she notes.

“Bolt aims to provide the highest quality service to all customers; therefore, we are monitoring the activity of drivers on the Bolt platform. If drivers fail to meet the minimal service requirements, such as the minimal rating and activity score, we are entitled to immediately terminate the agreement.”

Call for rider ‘clean-up’

Since inception, the local e-hailing industry has been tainted by incidents of crime, violent attacks and drivers being accused of harassment, alleged rape of female passengers, and theft of passengers’ money and mobile phones.

Some of these crimes have been attributed to the so-called “tenant drivers” who illegally rent out their Bolt accounts to friends or strangers who are not formally registered with or known to Bolt.

Melithemba Mnguni, secretary of the e-Hailing Partners Council, believes the clean-up campaign is long overdue. “But we are concerned about the high number of 6 000 drivers blocked for misconduct. This shows how endemic this issue [crime] has been on the platform.

“It's a huge number and this brings us back to what we've been urging for – prevention is better than cure, because they are blocked after the damage has already been done. Driver screening and vetting should always be prioritised to prevent crime incidents from happening on the platform.”

Mnguni emphasises the importance of applying similar measures for Bolt passengers/riders. “Can we see the clean-up they've done on passengers too? The risk for passengers is probably at 30% and for drivers it’s around 70%, because drivers are mostly attacked by criminals pretending to be passengers.

“Currently, we are only seeing one side of the story and this makes it look as if there are lives that are more important than others.”

Moretsele says the association is concerned about the weak on-boarding process for riders when registering on the app – putting the lives of drivers at risk.

“Driver hijackings are on the rise, as a result of inadequate safety on the Bolt app. These hijackers drive around pretending to be legitimate drivers and end up robbing passengers and committing other crimes. We want transparency on the blocking of riders and tighter vetting processes.”

Responding to these concerns, Aghadiuno points out that Bolt continuously prevents drivers and riders, who have been reported for misconduct, from accessing the platform.

“These operational measures aim to amplify the platform's safety features and trip experience. While we cannot disclose specific figures on rider blockings, we can confirm our platform has measures in place to address and act upon any instances of misconduct by riders. Our goal is to ensure a safe and respectful environment for everyone using our services,” she concludes.