E-hailing firm Bolt plans to introduce upskilling initiatives that will see it create around 30 000 jobs for youth over the long-term.
This emerged following a meeting last month between South African government officials and Bolt’s executive delegation, led by founder and CEO Markus Villig, to discuss regulation and the safety of the local e-taxi industry.
According to the company, the meeting was part of ongoing discussions with regulators and lawmakers, to cultivate the existing relationship with government.
During the meeting, recommendations were made on creating regulations that will ensure ride-hailing is recognised as a standalone mode of transport, to further develop the industry and create more jobs for unemployed youth.
The company believes regulating the industry will be a key enabler to creating further economic opportunities in the sector and contributing to the country’s economy.
Over the last few years, ride-hailing services in SA have seen significant growth. However, several concerns plague the industry, including safety issues, the lack of a regulatory framework and drivers crying foul over low wages.
Villig, along with Bolt’s executive team − including global president Jevgeni Kabanov, VP Paddy Partridge and regional manager for East and Southern Africa Takura Malaba − engaged with government officials in February.
Trade, industry and competition deputy minister Nomalungelo Gina, executive mayor of Cape Town Geordin Hill-Lewis and Gauteng MEC for economic development Tasneem Motara represented government.
In an e-mail interview with ITWeb, Malaba highlighted Bolt’s commitment to a regulatory framework that will focus on economic development of the industry, and strive to improve safety and security.
“We shared with government some of our experiences across other African and global markets, and how measures by government can unlock earning opportunities for young people.
“We believe government can create the platform for standards and streamlined processes that support licensing conditions, where young people and women can have a pathway for professional driver permits and licensing conditions.
“By ensuring ride-hailing is recognised as a distinct and standalone mode of transport, we strongly believe this will enable the sector to grow, and create economic opportunities for thousands of drivers, as well as provide an alternative mode of transport for people in the 23 local cities we operate it,” commented Malaba.
Bolt says it has had a positive impact on the African continent since its local inception in 2016, signing up over 900 000 partner drivers, who work across seven markets, with 40 000 based across SA.
Over the next few years, the company is looking at adding thousands of jobs across its three business units: e-hailing, food delivery and electric scooter rentals.
However, this will only be possible through a favourable regulatory environment, Malaba noted.
“We also shared with government how micro-mobility and shared mobility can repurpose cities for the benefit of communities, through increased economic activity. We are excited about the partnership opportunities on green mobility, but also financing and upskilling opportunities that will unlock entrepreneurial opportunities for young people and women.”
During its interaction with government, Bolt shared its safety and screening standards, as well as the interventions it has taken to ensure safety on its app.
Over the years, e-hailing drivers have been targets of violence at the hands of criminals and metered taxi operators, who accuse them of “stealing” their customers. There have also been many reports of passengers accusing e-hailing drivers of various crimes, including theft and sexual assault.
The past few years have seen e-hailing drivers and operators from Bolt, Uber and InDrive hold nationwide protests, urging government to intervene by signing the National Land Transport Amendment Bill, which has been updated to accommodate the e-hailing service industry, among other changes.
The Bill stipulates that e-hailing companies must introduce strict vetting procedures to ensure drivers don’t participate in criminality.
It also ensures e-hailing firms are subject to relevant transport regulations, and will pay fair wages and provide better working conditions for all drivers and operators.
The Bill was passed by Parliament in 2020. However, in September 2021, president Cyril Ramaphosa sent it back to the National Assembly for consideration due to reservations surrounding its constitutionality.
The National Assembly has since passed the National Land Transport Amendment Bill and sent it to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for concurrence.
It is currently sitting with the NCOP and there have been no new developments to date.
While the procedure to enact the Bill has been sluggish, government reassured Bolt executives it is moving to regulate the e-hailing industry.
In a statement released after the Bolt meeting, trade, industry and competition deputy minister Gina commended Bolt for creating thousands of jobs in SA.
“I am pleased with the strategic focus that you [Bolt] are making on security features for the riders.
“I am particularly excited by the commitment to increase women drivers on the platform, and for women riders to have an option to choose a female driver for their trips. They are going to be increasing the number of women drivers for women riders, for purposes of choice and safety assurances.
“The level of abuse against women in SA is high. Companies like e-hailing services must be the safe spaces for them to use.”
Both parties agreed a technical meeting with the National Consumer Commission must be held urgently to deal with issues of regulation and compliance.
Partridge commented: “We are very supportive of regulation and we very much want the industry to be of global standards in terms of safety and regulation.
“Since Bolt’s arrival in SA, we have introduced many safety interventions and we believe in creating regulations that improve safety standards for both our driver partners and customers.
“These include the Professional Driving Permit issued to drivers by local authorities, a police clearance certificate and the recently introduced Bolt Driver Selfie Verification feature, to combat driver impersonation on the app.
“Additionally, our vetting process for drivers includes professional licence clearance by SAPS on traffic transgressions, and Bolt conducts background crime checks of drivers.”