Uber and Bolt drivers threaten national shutdown in South Africa

Bolt and Uber drivers in South Africa have threatened to shut down operations to protest ongoing safety concerns and low pay.

While the strike hasn’t gained full momentum, it could significantly decrease the number of available ride-hailing drivers and leave many stranded.

In an interview with 702, e-hailing services spokesperson Vhatuka Mbelengwa said that many ride-hailing drivers are expected to switch off their apps.

However, he doesn’t expect services to come to a complete halt.

“There is a very large sentiment leaning towards people switching off their apps, but I won’t say that this is an agreed-upon overall strategy by the industry,” said Mbelengwa.

“I will say that it is possible that there will be disruptions. People should exercise vigilance.”

He explained there might be a service reduction, but there likely won’t be a complete shutdown of ride-hailing apps.

“It’s not like this is an overnight strike where it’s registered with a start point and an endpoint,” said Mbelengwa.

“It’s more of a sentiment thing within the industry to say we need to find a different way to fight to make sure that the constraints we have come to an end.”

Ride-hailing drivers want, among other things, regulation in the industry and for companies to reduce the “extremely high” commissions they charge.

“Let’s regulate the industry. Let’s ensure that people are making decent money. Let’s reduce the extremely high commission that Uber is taking away from drivers,” Mbelengwa stated.

Car allegedly set on fire during violence between taxi drivers and Uber and Bolt operators in June 2023.

Their demands also relate to ongoing safety concerns regarding hijacking, illegal vehicle impoundment, and ride-hailing drivers being targeted by taxi drivers.

Mbelengwa believes there won’t be any form of intimidation from striking drivers towards those who continue to work through the shutdown.

However, he added that with hundreds of thousands expected to participate, it is still a possibility.

“It’s a big industry. There are hundreds of thousands of people participating in it, so you can never be too sure what exactly may transpire,” he said.

“This is a national shutdown that is being discussed. We may not have full momentum today, but I think people will try their best to get momentum.”

Bolt’s regional manager for East and Southern Africa, Takura Malaba, says the company knows of the planned strike and supports its drivers’ right to protest.

“Bolt has always appealed to drivers to do so legally, peacefully, and without impacting the rights of other drivers who are choosing to continue to operate and earn an income,” said Malaba.

He added that the company regularly engages with law enforcement to help address the crimes of hijacking and illegal impoundment.

“Crimes against ride-hailing drivers continue to be a national issue of great concern. The safety of passengers and drivers utilising the Bolt platform is of utmost importance to us,” he said.

Malaba said Bolt also regularly reviews new ways to increase driver earnings, such as incentivising passengers, launching new categories, and boosting marketing to attract more customers.

An Uber spokesperson told MyBroadband that it is aware of the planned protest and continues to have open discussions with its drivers.

“In the last month, we have been engaging with the Soweto E-hailing Association, Western Cape E-Hailing Council, Metered Taxi Associations and many other structures and government departments,” they said.

“So far, we are forming workable solutions for the benefit of an inclusive ride-sharing industry, whilst upholding the independent status of drivers operating on the App.”

“Driver concerns are important to us and we are constantly taking their feedback into account, by adapting fare policies and rolling out new technology to provide better earning opportunities,” they added.

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Uber and Bolt drivers threaten national shutdown in South Africa