More than 1500 drivers and owners from the ride-hailing service, Bolt, switched off the app on Monday as they embarked on a strike over a newly introduced feature, Bolt Go.
Drivers and vehicle owners gathered at Blue Lagoon in Durban as they wanted to protest in a convoy, however, they were dispersed by the metro police.
The strike was organised by the South African E-hailing Association (Sahea), which said that numerous attempts of trying to engage the service provider had failed.
The new low cost category feature known as Bolt Go, which was launched by Bolt in the country last week, has fares that are about 20% less than regular Bolt rides.
According to Bolt, the new feature will significantly lower the barriers to entry into the South African ride-hailing industry by allowing owners and drivers of hatchback cars to access the Bolt platform and earn an income.
However, the move has not gone down well with the drivers and vehicle owners using the app, who said they were working at a loss as more people were now opting to use the new, cheaper feature.
Sthembiso Mgwaba, a member of the association, said after engaging with the drivers and owners at the weekend they had resolved to down tools.
Mgwaba said the decision came after the service provider had failed to respond to their letter of demand.
He said that as the association, they were demanding Bolt cease operations or remove the Bolt Go category.
Mgwaba said the members of the association felt that the new service was tantamount to slavery as their drivers would be earning far less per trip.
“What’s excruciating is that partner drivers are still using the same vehicles they were using previously and yet they have to accept the lower fares because of this feature. At a rate of R5.50/km before 28% Bolt commission, this pricing structure leaves no room for our members to make a profit or break even,” said Mgwaba.
Speaking to The Mercury, one of the drivers said that many drivers who had started to use the feature were now working at a loss.
“It’s hard. We are working for petrol and diesel now. When the rider is 10 minutes away, you still have to travel to them for pick-up; they don’t count those kilometres.
“There is no one who will choose to use the normal option while there is this Bolt Go. Most of us are staying away from accepting riders requesting this feature, but we are not getting trips when we do that,” said the driver, who asked not to be named.
Mgwaba further claimed that partners and partner drivers were being exploited.
“According to the Automobile Association (AA), the rate per km is currently at R2.64 for a 2017 VW Polo Vivo 1.4 engine derivative, hence we don’t want this. It is non-profitable and seeks to undermine the intelligence of our members.
“It leaves our members in a worse off situation than they previously were before the implementation of this feature.
“The association is committed to fighting for the rights of its members,” said Mgwaba.
Gareth Taylor, country manager for Bolt in South Africa, said it was aware that a small number of drivers were choosing to stay offline in protest over the introduction of Bolt Go.
Taylor said they respected every driver’s right to protest, and appealed to drivers to do so peacefully, without impacting the rights of other drivers who choose to continue to operate.
“Bolt condemns any violence or destruction of property perpetrated as part of a strike. 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 stay online to meet demand,” he said.