Uber, Bolt drivers plan shutdown of ride-hailing services

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 20 Feb 2020

Disgruntled Uber and Bolt drivers are planning a second silent protest, saying they will temporarily shut down their services if their demands are not met.

The drivers took their fight to the streets of Johannesburg yesterday,driving in a convoy from Zoo Lake in Parkview to Sandton, to protest against what they call “exploitation”, high commissions resulting in lower income and safety issues.

They complain that rising petrol prices and ridiculously cheap discounts contribute to lowering their income, while the commission they pay to e-hailing companies continues to increase.

The ride-hailing services’ business model is premised on a principle of not employing their partner drivers but rather allowing them to use the technology, in exchange for a commission. The percentage split between the taxi service, drivers and vehicle owner is at the centre of the dispute.

A Bolt driver, who wanted to be identified as Samuel, told ITWeb they are demanding a 5% to 10% commission decrease, after the company recently increased the commission from 15% to 20%, resulting in poor wages. In addition, there is a 5% booking fee deducted from each trip.

Uber also takes a 25% commission, with a booking fee of 3%.

“We are planning to go ‘offline’ on Monday if Bolt doesn’t come back to us with their response. In addition to yesterday’s protest, we have been communicating with them on our WhatsApp group to hear if there is any positive response. We are mobilising ourselves and we are planning the next move if they continue this silence. We also want the public to know that we don’t take home much, despite the perception that we earn well,” says Samuel.

He adds that another contributing factor is that Bolt still continues to take in new vehicles despite the business being “oversaturated with drivers, particularly in Johannesburg”, resulting in some drivers working for more than one company and less earnings.

“If a driver makes R1 000 a day this means they give R200 to Bolt, leaving R800. There is then a 5% deduction for the booking fee, resulting in R760 left. From this, I use R300 for petrol, leaving me with R460. This has to then be split between myself and the taxi owner, leaving me with almost nothing at the end of the day. The agreement we have with the vehicle owners has nothing to do with the company; most owners take a minimum of R2 000 a week, while others take more. So this leaves the driver with nothing,” explains Samuel.

According to Samuel, during promotion periods, customers can pay as little as R21 for a 5km ride, which should “never be allowed”.

Responding to ITWeb’s questions, Gareth Taylor, country manager of BoltSA, says Bolt’s commission structure is lower than what many other similar platforms charge.

“Drivers that use Bolt keep between 6% and 13% more per trip than drivers using other platforms. Drivers have stated that one of the reasons they are protesting is because they believe that discounts and promotion codes offered to riders affect driver income negatively.

“Bolt offers discounts to new and existing riders. New riders can receive these discounts in the form of promo codes. Bolt drivers do not suffer financially as a result of these discounts as Bolt covers the costs of these promotions. Drivers are paid the discounted amount by the passenger, and Bolt pays the difference to drivers in the weekly pay-outs. Bolt offers discounts as an incentive to riders, to encourage more trips, and increase drivers’ earning potential.”

Safety still in the spotlight

Taylor adds that safety of riders and drivers utilising the Bolt platform is of utmost importance and Bolt is “continuously developing safety features and tools that have a real impact on addressing the safety of both riders and drivers”.

An Uber driver, called Ndabezitha, says the Uber drivers' meeting held after the strike yesterday concluded with an agreement that they would give Uber seven days to respond before a shutdown of the service comes into effect.

“We have been planning yesterday’s strike for the past three weeks and if nothing changes, we will hold a silent strike by simply refusing to work. We have agreed that if any one of our drivers continues to work during the strike, we will force them to stop. The upcoming protest also aims to draw the attention of the government because the only solution to this exploitation is regulation,” says Ndabezitha.

In terms of the safety issues, Ndabezitha says he personally knows of a number of drivers who lost their lives in the last six months, and all the new safety features introduced on the app have not increased driver safety measures much.

“What’s worse is that after the latest Uber app update, the drivers can no longer view the clients’ ratings when a ride request is made, meaning there is no way of knowing who is a high-risk client and who isn’t. In the past, we could easily reject a request from a high-risk client, but now this is no longer possible.”

In an e-mail response to ITWeb, an Uber spokesperson said: “We are aware of the protest that took place yesterday, by a group of e-hailing drivers. Uber’s dedicated team are closely investigating this, and at this stage and based on the information that we have, it does not seem that this protest is related to Uber.

“The Uber app remained reliable for both riders and drivers, and requests were unaffected. We want to take this opportunity to remind our partners of their options to engage directly with Uber.”

In a report released yesterday, the Competition Commission says the practice note by the Department of Transport makes provision for e-hailing operators to be licensed as metered taxi operators; however, the National Land Transport Amendment Bill is being considered in Parliament.

It also raises concerns around the payment of ride-hailing services drivers, saying they could be earning less than they did six years ago.

“During the public hearings, some drivers alleged that when e-hailing companies entered the South African market, they used various forms of incentives to attract as many drivers on the platform as possible. These incentives were later withdrawn unilaterally, negatively affecting their earnings.

“In addition, e-hailing companies introduced booking fees of an average of 4%, which also impacted their earnings. Based on the data received from the e-hailing companies, the commission found that earnings per driver are fluctuating over time, possibly due to the increased drivers on the platforms.”