Bolt drivers, operators march against ‘exploitation’

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The Economic Freedom Fighters led the Bolt protest to the e-hailing company’s Sandton headquarters.
The Economic Freedom Fighters led the Bolt protest to the e-hailing company’s Sandton headquarters.

Hundreds of Bolt drivers and operators took to the streets of Johannesburg this morning, to protest against what they call “exploitation of driver partners and operators” by the e-hailing company.

The march comes three days after governing bodies representing Bolt drivers held a meeting with its members on Sunday in Johannesburg, to discuss a set of existing and new grievances with Bolt.

The protesters rallied from Johannesburg Zoo Lake in Parkview to deliver a written memorandum to Gareth Taylor, country manager of Bolt South Africa, at Bolt’s Sandton headquarters, with the aim to highlight a list of grievances raised during the meeting.

Among the six key complaints listed in the memorandum seen by ITWeb, is the permanent blocking of drivers on the mobile app, when several complaints are received from riders; the latest 60%-70% off discounts for new riders; and the safety of drivers after they recently complained that the emergency SOS button on the mobile app is not assigned to any security company – putting their lives at risk.

The protesters, joined by members of the Economic Freedom Fighters, threatened to stage “the mother of e-hailing shutdowns” within seven working days, if there is no positive response from Bolt.

The protest comes almost two months after scores of Bolt commuters were left stranded in July, after thousands of Bolt drivers protested against Bolt Go, the ride-hailing company’s new low-cost service.

Speaking to ITWeb in a telephone interview last night, a Bolt driver and one of the leaders of the march who preferred not to be named, explained that Bolt has not had any physical engagement or consultation with its driver partners or operators since inception, resulting in a breakdown of communication and lack of understanding of the day-to-day-challenges they face.

“The aim of the march is to dismantle Bolt’s consistently exploitative system. We are fighting against the lack of responsiveness after expressing our grievances around safety issues, low commissions and high booking fees, the new 60% to 70% off promotion, which results in low earnings, and drivers get permanently blocked at any given moment, without a reason given by the company.

“When we joined Bolt, years ago, we were told that we are partners and not employees of this company, therefore we thought we would be consulted regularly as part of the decision-making processes regarding new developments, but this has never happened − and we are not happy. If nothing changes, we are ready to shut down all operations in seven days’ time.”

Last month, Bolt introduced major promotions on the app for new riders; however, drivers claim that most customers cheat the system, by buying new SIM cards and registering under fake names – a method which allows them to pay up to 70% less for rides.

Bolt takes a 20% commission from each trip, with a booking fee of 5%.

Lives at risk

Today’s protest comes a few weeks after a Bolt driver was killed by criminals and another one was hijacked, and numerous other robbery incidents which have been experienced by drivers, notes the protest leader.

The memorandum states: “Our lives matter. We want to know which security company is assigned to respond to emergency incidents when the SOS button is pushed by drivers, because our brothers and sisters are still being robbed regularly.”

The drivers are worried the SOS button merely informs the office of an emergency, but it is not efficient in alerting a security company.

In a circulating WhatsApp voice note, a person who claims to be a Bolt driver is heard warning drivers of all other e-hailing companies in Gauteng against operating today, threatening they are ready to spill blood if anyone rebels by collecting customers.

“I have been sent to warn all of you, whether you are from Bolt, Uber, InDriver or other companies. If you love your life or your vehicle, refrain from working today. Bolt drivers should not even think of switching over to other apps; you are putting your lives at risk, because this protest is more serious than previous ones,” says the anonymous voice.

Meanwhile, Bolt's Taylor says: “Bolt is aware that a small number of drivers are choosing to stay offline in protest, today, Wednesday, 23 September 2020.

“Bolt respects every driver’s right to protest, and asks drivers to do so legally, peacefully, and without impacting the rights of other drivers who choose to continue to operate and earn an income.

“Apart from slightly longer waiting times, the protest has not impacted riders’ ability to hail a ride through the platform, as there are enough drivers who have chosen to not participate in the protest action and stay online to meet demand.

“Bolt engages with drivers that use the platform through a variety of channels, both electronic and face-to-face, and is aware of drivers’ concerns about various issues.”

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