Uber and Bolt drivers in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya have complained that their earning potential has declined severely amid rising costs and muted demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Uber announced the expansion of its cheaper “UberGo” ride option – formerly UberNam – from Port Elizabeth to the rest of South Africa, several drivers asked Uber to put the service on hold.
Drivers said one of the major issues they had with Bolt, which caused some drivers to stage a protest last year, was the introduction of the cheaper Bolt Go tariff that had a negative impact on driver earnings.
Bloomberg reported in April that that drivers in Nigeria have gone on strike amid inflationary pressures that have caused their operational costs to soar. They demanded that Uber reduce its commission to allow drivers to pocket a greater share of a fare.
Drivers in Kenya threatened to strike over similar reasons, the report stated.
“By its very nature, e-hailing is a disruptive sector that continues to seek out new ways to offer more agile, cost-effective door to door transport solutions for consumers, and new ways for drivers to earn an income,” said Gareth Taylor, regional manager for Bolt in Southern Africa.
“Bolt launched Bolt Go in 2020, aiming to be the most affordable ride-hailing service in South Africa with fares approximately 20% less than regular Bolt rides. This was in order to increase accessibility to safe and affordable mobility services in South Africa.”
Taylor said that the new category significantly lowered the barriers to entry into the South African ride-hailing industry by empowering owners and drivers of hatchback cars to access the Bolt platform and earn an income.
“The rates are lower than other categories, because small hatchback cars cost less to run than regular sedans and other vehicles,” Taylor stated.
“As it is more affordable, Bolt Go appeals to a wider range of passengers, meaning that there are more customers for drivers on the platform,” Taylor said.
“Passengers that use Bolt Go also tend to take trips that are, on average, twice as long as the trips on the regular Bolt category. This translates into higher earnings per trip for drivers.”
As an example of the profitability, Taylor said that on a ride of 8km, a Bolt Go driver would gross R49.60 off a trip that cost the passenger R64.
If the driver’s operational costs were taken into account using AA rates, they would pocket R28.24 clear profit, after running costs, on that 8km ride.
Using the BankservAfrica Take-home Pay Index as an indicator for the average wage in South Africa, a Bolt Go driver would therefore have to do 452 such 8km trips per month, or around 15–16 trips per day, to earn at least R12,749 in profit per month.
MyBroadband asked Uber about driver complaints regarding the launch of UberGo in South Africa, and the company said it will continue to engage directly with drivers.
“First and foremost, the well-being of Uber drivers across SA has and continues to be a top priority, during these uncertain times,” a spokesperson for Uber said.
“We continue to do as much as possible to enhance the earnings potential of drivers, and leverage innovative offerings like fuel rewards, maintenance, insurance and healthcare rewards and other special offers to help them. We will also continue to drive demand through promotional and marketing activities so that more people are riding with Uber.”
The table below compares the base fares, commission fees, and gross earnings of Uber and Bolt drivers in South Africa for short trips less than 2km, and longer rides of 8km and 20km.
Bolt takes a flat commission of 20% on all fares, while Uber charges 20%, 22.5%, or 25% depending on a driver’s status in its tiered service fee loyalty programme.
Both platforms also charge a 4% booking fee.
It should be noted that fares can vary depending on city. The fares in the table below were taken from Gauteng.
|Uber vs. Bolt fares and driver gross earnings|
|Base fare < 2km||R25||R20||R20||R20|
|Commission||20% – 25%||20%||20% – 25%||20%|
|Gross earnings: 2km trip||R18.75 – R20||R16||R15 – R16||R16|
|Gross earnings: 8km trip||R53 – R57||R52||R50 – R54||R50|
|Gross earnings: 20km trip||R135 – R144||R114||R101 – R108||R84|