Uber, Bolt drivers shut down apps in protest

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 16 Oct 2023
The Bajaj vehicles have been a bone of contention since being introduced by Bolt in July.
The Bajaj vehicles have been a bone of contention since being introduced by Bolt in July.

E-hailing drivers today shut down their apps in protest over the implementation of the new Trip Radar in-app feature and the use of Bajaj cars, among other issues.

The strike, which kicked off this morning, has left passengers who rely on Uber and Bolt stranded.

An ITWeb staffer who uses Uber says they waited for the transport for more than 30 minutes, with the Uber driver, who was not part of the strike, saying they had “risked” their life by continuing to operate while other drivers were on strike.

According to the employee, the fee for the ride to work was triple the amount normally paid.

Amid the industrial action, the drivers will go to all Uber and Bolt offices − including their airport holding areas − to demand their grievances be addressed, says the E-Hailing Partners Council, which represents Uber and Bolt drivers.

This is not the first time that e-hailing drivers are protesting over the Trip Radar feature, as well as the introduction of the tiny Bajaj vehicles.

Last month, e-hailing drivers and operators in Gauteng staged what they called the “last push protest” − a two-day march against the Bajaj Qute vehicles operating on the Bolt ride-hailing platform.

The drivers say Bajaj vehicles are not safe for drivers and passengers, nor other motorists. They add that Bajaj vehicles are direct competition with minibus taxis and will fuel the existing animosity, which sees drivers subjected to violence.

The drivers are also protesting the “high and unjustified commissions, and unsustainable prices”.

Unintended consequences

They add 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.

Trip Radar gives drivers a list of nearby ride requests. With the feature, drivers will be able to pick the trips they want from the list, and if Uber decides it’s a good match, it’ll give them the job.

The Bajaj 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.

In a placard seen by ITWeb about the latest strike, the E-Hailing Partners Council is demanding 18% commission, as well as a standard rate of R8.50 per kilometre from the e-hailing companies.

Responding to the drivers’ grievances, Uber says it is globally focused on collaborations that have a positive impact on communities, enable more earning opportunities and help grow small businesses.

“This is part of our environmental, societal and governance reporting. The collaboration with the Gauteng government is an example of our attempt at addressing the unemployment problem in South Africa by investing in digitising township businesses.

“Our investment is expected to yield over R500 million in gross value added for the Gauteng province in the next three years. This, however, is only one contribution to a broader last-mile initiative the province is leading, and they are best placed to provide further detail.

“It is within this context that we must be consistent with the needs of the country and province, as this is part of the much-needed private sector participation in an increasingly challenging economic climate.”

Uber adds that in terms of the issues surrounding its technology – be it Dynamic Pricing, Trip Radar and other features listed in the concerns raised, “there seems to be a gap in the information we have shared with drivers on our platform, and the concerns raised in the memorandum.

“We offer leading-edge technologies that are developed by global engineering teams with insights from local teams, drivers and other forms of feedback,” says Uber.

Trip Radar, for example, it explains, enables drivers to receive individual requests, and show interest in other offers available around them.

This means more options for drivers, less risk of dead kilometres or idling and low waiting times for riders, it notes.

According to the company, Trip Radar is available in over 60 countries and is being safely used by more than 800 000 earners daily.

“Should drivers wish to do so, they may choose to ignore the Trip Radar requests and still receive individual requests as they did before.

“Dynamic pricing is also one of those technologies that we offer, and this responds to a number of factors, such as demand and supply – offering features such as surge (higher fares) which are beneficial for drivers and riders (attracting more drivers to underserved areas with high demand).

Tweaking tech

“As a global company that operates locally, we consistently monitor diverse market dynamics, along with consistently engaging with drivers as we consider changes to rollout in the market.

“With the examples of Trip Radar and Dynamic Pricing, our technology offering brings value to drivers and riders and this is because of continuous innovation.”

Bolt notes it is constantly looking for ways to increase earning opportunities for drivers and recently introduced a new ride category (Bolt Lite), which is a low-cost vehicle solution that is economically viable for drivers during these tough economic times.

“We are 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.”

According to Bolt, the commission paid by drivers to access the platform to connect with passengers is up to 23% (including VAT) of the total fare paid by passengers, excluding the booking fee (set at 4% and paid for by the passenger), which is less than other players in the South African e-hailing industry.