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From Uber to Bolt, it’s not all smooth sailing for the e-hailing driver

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From Uber to Bolt, it’s not all smooth sailing for the e-hailing driver

E-hailing which involves the use of mobile or computer devices to link passengers with drivers has come a long way in Nigeria since 2013 – when it was launched in the two major cities of Abuja and Lagos –  to 2019 – with operations now extended to cities like Ibadan, Owerri, Benin, Port Harcourt, and more to come.

Services like Uber, Gidicab and Bolt (formerly Taxify) have transformed to some extent the way people move in these cities and impacted on the general transport industry.

The drivers are the most visible players in the business, with a good number using their cars while others rent a car in an owner-driver arrangement.

The positives: I would say the sizable employment generated by the e-hailing business is the biggest positive. There are reports that Uber alone has a network of over  9000 drivers and Bolt  boasts a slightly higher figure according to estimates.

  • The drivers get to choose when and how long to work.
  • You earn as you drive, so incomes vary. Bolt advertises that a driver can earn over N100,000 per week. That’s reasonable income.

A typical e-hailing driver gets into his car, activates his app and awaits requests from registered riders. When he gets one, he proceeds to the pickup destination, picks the rider, and starts the trip until they both arrive at the set destination. The rider pays the fee stated on the app and the driver waits for the next request. Sounds like a fair deal.

But, like in any other business, things aren’t always perfect.

Low  fares: Top on the list of issues drivers complain about is low pricing after completed trips. According to them, fares do not adequately reflect the distance covered or time spent on the road.

A visit to one of the drivers’ platforms reflected findings like these:

  • Babatunde, a Bolt driver: Took a rider from Ojo Barracks to Leisure mall in Surulere, Lagos and the price read 500 Naira for a trip that, according to him, will cost around 4000 Naira.
  • Akin: “I picked a Nigerian rider who lives in South Africa. The trip ended with a price of 2100 Naira. The rider said in South Africa it will cost him the equivalent of 7000 Naira thereabout.’’ The sympathetic rider ended up paying him 3000 Naira.
  • Orobosa, another Bolt driver: “I have not worked for days now, am just afraid to work because of the stupid price I will see at the end of the trip. Imagine from Freedom Way to Berger 3300 and I waited for hours to get ride back to Lekki, no rider. I had to blow empty back to Lekki with serious traffic on Third Mainland Bridge. Since then to go out and work has been difficult for me.”
  • An Abuja driver had a similar story to tell: Took a rider from Area 1 to Lugbe, a distance of about 7 kilometers and was billed 500 Naira, a fare that will cost a thousand naira with an ordinary taxi (with no Air conditioner).

One small takeaway: It appears that more Bolt drivers make these types of complaints compared to other services. Bolt, the Estonian company which has overtaken Uber in the Nigerian market has lowered fares in an attempt to win over riders to the detriment of the driver partners.

  • There is a price review option to address this issue on the app, but the drivers say it sometimes gives an even lower fare after a review. Tough luck!

Important to note: While Bolt takes a 15% commission on the fare charged per trip, Uber takes 25%. However Uber rides are marginally more expensive compared to Bolt.

Ratings: Bolt and Uber require that driver partners maintain a rating of 4.5 and above to continue on their platforms. In a normal rating system of any product or service, 5 stars goes for excellent, 4 stars for very good, 3 for good, 2 for poor and 1 for very poor. If a driver is rated 4 stars consecutively at the beginning of his deal with any of the two  major e-hailing companies, (s)he gets blocked after six or seven rides.

  • Question: Can  a rating of “Very good” be a bad enough rating to kick a driver off the platform?  

Among the reasons riders give low ratings to a driver are bad/longer routes, rudeness, bad condition of the vehicle, a disagreement, among others. Then again, Nigerians are hard to please, so sometimes even a good service is not enough to earn a driver 5 stars.

  • A driver in Abuja recently claimed to have been  blocked from Bolt over a complaint registered by a rider. The driver only found about this after a trip to the Bolt office. This was done without his version of what transpired.

The e-hailing services also take note of drivers’ acceptance rates. When a driver gets a ride request, he has 15 to 20 seconds to reject or cancel it before the request goes to another driver. An 80 percent acceptance rate is required to stay on the platform. That sounds fair enough as compared to the rider ratings.

Driver safety: There have been some reported cases of drivers getting cornered and their cars stolen, with some sustaining injuries.

Way forward for drivers

As things stand, there is no appropriate framework for government regulation in the e-hailing business. The Lagos Commissioner for Transport, Ladi Lawanson, has invited the operators for a sit down to address some of the issues and to also seek a better deal for the driver partners. This seems unlikely to happen. Uber and Bolt refer to themselves as tech companies and not transport companies. It’s now up to the driver partners to form a platform, organize themselves, meet with the companies and strike a better deal.

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Micheal Angou is a public servant. He writes on politics, new media and technology.

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