Chaos for e-hailing services amid load-shedding

Read time 3min 30sec

E-hailing drivers and operators have raised concerns over load-shedding’s negative impact on their ability to do business.

Uber and Bolt drivers and operators have been vocal about how the ongoing power cuts, which interrupt internet connectivity and signal, have been affecting e-hailing app functionality.

Load-shedding makes it impossible or difficult to use the apps in any area experiencing scheduled power outages, as it leads to network outages and intermittent internet connectivity, due to cellphone towers being stripped of their power supply. This leaves little time to charge the backup batteries installed in the base stations.

State-owned power utility Eskom has for years been struggling with generation shortages, operational failures, maintenance issues and breakdowns at ageing, poorly-maintained power stations.

E-hailing apps are central to the ride-sharing business model as they connect riders with drivers, providing a convenient mode of transport.

Vhatuka Mbelengwa, an e-hailing driver and national e-hailing spokesperson for the Private Public Transport Association of South Africa, tells ITWeb: “Load-shedding hits us in the pocket badly because it affects the communication between the app, the rider and the driver as a result of the towers not functioning properly.

“If there is no power in the area and a customer sends out a request for a ride, this means the app and GPS either don’t function at all for a certain period of time, or there will be a delay in connectivity. This results in the request not coming through to the driver, or during instances of delay, two drivers could accept one request at the same time. This just causes chaos and confusion.”

According to Mbelengwa, load-shedding adds further risks for drivers, as it contributes to an increase in car crashes as the power failure affects traffic lights and traffic flow.

Vhatuka Mbelengwa, national e-hailing spokesperson for the Private Public Transport Association of South Africa.
Vhatuka Mbelengwa, national e-hailing spokesperson for the Private Public Transport Association of South Africa.

A Bolt spokesperson told ITWeb: “Riders and drivers may not be able to connect to each other due to cellphone towers going down and affecting connectivity to the app. Additional traffic congestion from traffic lights not working will increase driver arrival and drop-off times, which may cause frustration for riders and drivers.”

Bolt says it encourages employees to plan their meetings and deliverables with their load-shedding schedule in mind, while being cognisant that colleagues may be on a different schedule.

“In addition, we do request that riders be patient as drivers seek to navigate the traffic congestion in load-shedding areas.”

A Bolt and Uber driver, who did not want to be named, told ITWeb that unlike other businesses that can use an alternative power source during load-shedding, e-hailing drivers, who are constantly on the road, do not have any other alternative for internet connectivity during the blackouts.

“Our only option is to drive to the nearest different area, where there is electricity and connectivity, but the challenge is that you find there are already other drivers who are also running away from load-shed areas.

“We have also seen an increase in hijackers and ‘smash-and-grab’ incidents at traffic lights, due to the traffic congestion,” he points out.

Ofentse Hlulani Mokwena, strategic projects lead at Uber Sub-Saharan Africa, told ITWeb this is a substantial issue because it affects both riders and drivers, potentially leading to lower business returns.

“South Africa has been having a lot of conversations about becoming a smart city, and the basics of that are internet integration and consistent connectivity and energy supply.

“I do think there are sustainable ways to power cellphone towers, and renewable energy is one of them, but we are well aware that renewable energy comes at a cost.

“Businesses can’t always rely on a generator that will consume petroleum indefinitely, but we need a long-term solution and renewable energy is the answer,” Mokwena asserts.

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