Thousands of Bolt drivers protest over low-cost service

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Scores of Bolt commuters were left stranded yesterday when over 12 000 Bolt drivers took to the streets of SA to hold protest demonstrations against Bolt Go, the ride-hailing company’s new low-cost service.

The protests come a week after governing bodies representing Bolt drivers and ride-hailing operators across SA sent memorandums to the ride-hailing company, demanding the halt of Bolt Go, which offers fares that are approximately 20% cheaper than regular Bolt rides.

In two memorandums seen by ITWeb, the South African E-hailing Association and the E-hailing Operators Interim Committee expressed their anger at what they call “Bolt’s manipulative system” and threatened to shut down Bolt’s ride-hailing services across SA by Monday, 27 July (yesterday), if the new service did not cease to operate.

The bodies claim that at R5.50/km instead of the normal R7/km rate, the addition of the service allows an influx of new vehicles, which will lead to Bolt operators and drivers earning a fraction of what they currently take home.

The South African E-hailing Association and the E-hailing Operators Interim Committee confirmed to ITWeb that silent protests were held by thousands of drivers yesterday across eight provinces, with the exception of the Western Cape. Screen shots of the unavailable service sent by frustrated customers are seen on the ride-hailing drivers’ and operators’ local Facebook page.

“We can confirm that a large number of our KwaZulu-Natal Bolt members were on strike yesterday, which took place in Blue Lagoon in Durban,” says Sizwe Jali, chairman of the South African E-hailing Association, KwaZulu-Natal region.

“Between 6 000 to 7 000 drivers in the province held a silent protest across Durban and went offline; all other provinces participated but we are not sure of the Western Cape. Bolt did not respond to our memorandum sent last week and we have no option but to protest, so that Bolt management realise we are serious in our demand to have the Bolt Go feature permanently de-activated.”

With some drivers having already joined more than one e-hailing platform such as Uber or InDriver, the majority of those protesting simply switched from using the Bolt app to the others, explained Jali.

“We need Bolt to understand they have to discuss with us any changes that will affect us in future, and not just introduce a new service without proper ascertainment if it will work in our favour or not,” he continues.

A screen shot of the unavailable service in KwaZulu-Natal sent by a Bolt customer.
A screen shot of the unavailable service in KwaZulu-Natal sent by a Bolt customer.

Clear contempt

In SA, Bolt operates in up to 34 towns and cities across all nine provinces. According to Reuters, Bolt had over 2.1 million local users by December last year, with an estimated 28% market share.

Bolt has over 500 000 partner drivers globally, but the local number of drivers has not been disclosed.

Melithemba Mnguni, secretary general of the E-hailing Operators Interim Committee, told ITWeb that over 6 000 Gauteng-based drivers protested yesterday, while North West, Limpopo, Eastern Cape, Free State, Mpumalanga and Northern Cape had an estimated less than 1 000 protesters in each province.

“Our message to Bolt yesterday was loud and clear that we reject Bolt Go with the contempt it deserves.

“While our associates at the South African E-hailing Association in KwaZulu-Natal and other provinces are continuing with the strike until further notice, unfortunately, given the circumstances, we would like to withdraw our participation for now while we give Bolt until Friday,31 July 2020, to respond to our grievance by deactivating the Bolt Go.

The ride-hailing industry is already in decline due to the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis. In April, aggrieved ride-hailing drivers and operators lobbiedgovernment to include them in the COVID-19 Relief Fund, fearing their vehicles would be repossessed as their business took a knock.

Responding to ITWeb’s request for comment, Gareth Taylor, country manager of Bolt South Africa, points out the affordable fares on Bolt Go aim to attract passengers who may not otherwise be able to hail a ride through the platform, increasing demand for drivers and boosting their opportunities to earn.

“Bolt is aware that a small number of drivers chose to stay offline on Monday, 27 July, in protest about the recent introduction of Bolt Go. Apart from slightly longer waiting times, the protest did not impact riders’ ability to hail a ride through the platform, as there were enough drivers who chose to stay online to meet demand,” explains Taylor.

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