South Africa

Bolt under fire South Africa

E-hailing platform Bolt has come under fire in South Africa for safety and quality concerns related to the service, but the company said it is working on improving security and addressing any concerns that may arise.

Bolt made headlines when it was revealed that the company had permanently blocked 6,000 drivers from its platform in South Africa in the past six months.

This was reportedly done to increase compliance and improve safety on the platform. News24 reported that blocking the drivers from the platform was part of Bolt’s commitment to making its service safer.

It said the most common reasons that drivers were blocked were “noncompliance” and “safety-related matters”.

Bolt and Uber are the two biggest e-hailing platforms in South Africa. Criticism of the platforms has ramped up in recent years amid the growing prevalence of violent attacks and complaints of theft.

Both platforms have less than 1.5 stars on the review platform HelloPeter, and social media is rife with complaints about the quality of both services.

Last year, the Sunday Times also reported that Johannesburg resident Kayleigh Marx and a friend were attacked and robbed in an Uber while out in Pretoria. She believed the driver orchestrated the attack.

At the time, Police confirmed it was not an isolated incident. They said four such cases had been opened at the Brooklyn police station and two in Garsfontein in that month. 

Numerous similar cases have been reported, and Uber said it is very concerned about the situation and has launched an investigation.

Bolt’s acting head of regulatory and policy Africa, Weyinmi Aghadiuno, told Daily Investor that the company takes safety seriously and continually strives to maintain and enhance its safety standards.

“We are committed to ensuring the safety of our passengers and drivers by implementing stringent safety measures,” she said. 

“We are always looking at new safety features that could contribute to the overall safety of passengers who use its platform.”

When asked if Bolt has noticed an increase in customer complaints in recent years, the company said it monitors customer feedback closely to ensure high-quality service. 

“While we have received some feedback regarding various aspects of our service, we are continuously working to address any issues and improve the overall customer experience. We encourage our passengers to share their concerns so we can take appropriate action,” Aghadiuno said.

She said Bolt is also dedicated to providing a reliable and high-quality service to all customers. 

“We understand that vehicle condition and driver professionalism are crucial for a pleasant ride experience. We are actively addressing these concerns where they do arise,” she said.

When asked about the platform’s vetting processes, Aghadiuno said that since Bolt’s arrival in South Africa, its unequivocal rule has been that all drivers require a Professional Driving Permit (PrDP) issued by local authorities to be accepted onto the Bolt platform. 

This permit is only granted to applicants with a Police Clearance Certificate from the SAPS. 

In addition to the Police Clearance obtained via the PrDP, Bolt conducts additional Criminal Background Checks – as an extra layer of driver verification. Bolt uses Huru crime checks. 

Drivers obtain them through Huru’s retail network with Postnet and Jetline. Drivers walk into a store and have their fingerprints captured.

In addition, she said the “Bolt community” has access to the following safety features –

  • Through Bolt’s partnership with the Automobile Association (AA), drivers and passengers can access an emergency response service integrated into the app. Activating this service shares the driver’s details and location with AA’s 24/7 contact centre and then immediately deploys private security and emergency services. 
  • Bolt shares information about danger hotspots with drivers, and they can decline a trip if they’re concerned about the safety of the pick-up location.
  • Passengers are also able to share trip details and ETAs with trusted contacts.
  • Passengers and drivers can now initiate an audio recording of their trip within the Bolt app, offering a solution in situations where they may feel unsafe during the trip. The recorded audio can be quickly reported to Bolt’s Customer Support team, facilitating swift and efficient handling of safety-related concerns. 
  • All drivers operating on the Bolt platform are required to undergo selfie verification. This feature enables drivers to take a selfie, thus verifying their identity before going online. The driver’s selfie will be matched against the Government database – Department of Home Affairs – to ensure the correct driver is behind the wheel. Drivers, at random, will also be prompted occasionally to share a live selfie to ensure that the correct driver is behind the wheel while online.
  • Passengers also have access to a trip monitoring feature, which works by proactively engaging with passengers and drivers in-app when a vehicle remains stationary for an extended period. To use this feature, no action is required; Bolt will activate a prompt for you to check if everything is okay, and you will be required to click on the “Yes, I am okay button” should there be no concern.

Bolt has also received complaints about driver safety on the platform. In response to this feedback, the platform is testing passenger verification to upgrade driver safety. 

As part of this in-app feature, new customers will be asked to take a selfie before they are able to place a ride-hailing order. 

For the selfie to be valid, it must be an authentic picture of a physically present person, with the face clearly visible. 

The passenger will not be able to place a ride-hailing order if their selfie is not valid. The passenger must also upload an identification document, which Bolt will check against the selfie.

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