E-hailing drivers protest against Bajaj vehicles

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 19 Sept 2023
The Bajaj Qute vehicles have been contentious since launching on the Bolt platform.
The Bajaj Qute vehicles have been contentious since launching on the Bolt platform.

E-hailing drivers and operators in Gauteng have staged what they call the “last push protest” − a two-day march against the Bajaj Qute vehicles operating on the Bolt ride-hailing platform.

The protesters gathered in the Johannesburg CBD this morning, to march to the premier’s office in Rahima Moosa Street. They also wanted to express their grievances centred on the new partnership between the Gauteng government and e-hailing firms Uber and Bolt.

Last month, Bolt and Uber separately announced partnerships with the Gauteng provincial government, aimed at empowering couriers and drivers on their platforms with new vehicles, scooters, skills development and other forms of entrepreneurial support.

In an interview, E-hailing Partners Council spokesperson Kenny Moretsele told ITWeb that the first day of the march is focused on engaging the premier’s office regarding the protesters’ grievances.

The second day – tomorrow – will see them march to the Uber and Bolt offices in Parktown North and Randburg, respectively.

Both days will see drivers go offline to shut down the e-hailing apps of both Uber and Bolt, he points out.

“We are against the Gauteng government’s partnership with Bolt and Uber, because this is the same government that we have been pouring our hearts out to regarding our challenges in this industry, and now they've decided to enter into a partnership with the companies that have been exploiting us for years.

“The introduction of the Bajaj Qute vehicles introduces a cheaper category of services, meaning those who are in the industry will automatically be out of business because of the lowest price option,” explains Moretsele.

The E-hailing Partners Council wants to meet with transport department representatives, to find a way forward and discuss the progress towards regulating the industry, he adds.

E-hailing Partners Council spokesperson Kenny Moretsele and a notice urging e-hailing drivers to participate in the protest action.
E-hailing Partners Council spokesperson Kenny Moretsele and a notice urging e-hailing drivers to participate in the protest action.

In a memorandum of grievances seen by ITWeb that was delivered to the Gauteng premier’s office this morning, the protesters complain:

  • Bajaj vehicles are not safe for drivers and passengers, nor other motorists.
  • Bajaj Qute vehicles are direct competition with minibus taxis and will fuel the existing animosity, which sees drivers subjected to violence.
  • High and unjustified commissions, and unsustainable prices.
  • The new in-app Trip Radar feature can be used as an exploitative tool by Uber, and makes drivers more vulnerable to attacks by criminals through tracking of vehicles.

The Baja vehicles have been a bone of contention since being introduced by Bolt in July. The vehicles have received opposition from other e-hailing drivers, as well as metered taxi drivers, due to their low-cost operating model that has seen customers opt for the new category over existing options.

They are offered under Bolt Lite, which is the e-hailing company’s cheapest option. Riders can pay as little as R25 for a trip on Bolt Lite.

However, several of these vehicles have been impounded by traffic police because the drivers did not have valid operating licences, according to law enforcement.

In a statement sent to ITWeb, an Uber spokesperson says the company is aware of a group of e-hailing drivers that plan to protest today and tomorrow.

“Drivers are at the heart of everything we do and having a voice in the industry is important. We believe that by engaging with drivers and their representatives, we can continue to work on providing better earning opportunities for drivers and seamless mobility for riders.

“We remain ready and willing to engage drivers, policymakers, social representatives and the industry to improve the quality of platform work,” says the Uber spokesperson.

Uber says it has been engaging with the E-Hailing Partners Council, Soweto E-hailing Association, Western Cape E-Hailing Council, Metered Taxi Associations and many other structures and government departments in efforts to establish “co-existence agreements” between all parties.

Takura Malaba, regional manager of Bolt East and Southern Africa, says the company has always appealed to drivers to protest legally, peacefully and without impacting the rights of other drivers who choose to continue working.

“Bolt is compassionate towards drivers and the macro-economic factors they face, and will continue to assess fares and make adjustments where possible.

“Bolt also continues to monitor a reduction in passenger demand given the cost of living pressures and looks to incentivise more passenger demand, supporting an increase in driver earnings,” says Malaba.

Crimes against ride-hailing drivers continue to be a national issue of great concern and the company assures drivers their safety while utilising the Bolt platform is of utmost importance, he adds.