Dear South Africa: An Open Letter from Bolt

March 04, 2022

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I’d be so grateful for a few minutes of your time, so that I can share some of our thoughts, insights, and responses into recent events. 

Over the last week, we’ve seen outrage, anger and heartbreak play out over social and other media, following the terrible trauma suffered by a passenger while she was on a Bolt ride last week.

We share those devastating feelings with everyone – just as we share them every time another incident of South Africa’s nationwide scourge of gender-based violence shatters someone’s life – and the lives of those around them.

It is deplorable that the women and children, sons and daughters of everyone in this country have to weigh up their safety when they’re walking in a public place, using public transport, or even just going about their daily business. 

We always have, and always will, condemn every instance of gender-based violence, no matter where or when it takes place, as it betrays everyone’s hope of a safe, secure South Africa where everyone can move around freely, no matter their location, or the time of day or night. 

That’s why we supported the SAPS in their investigation into last week’s heinous incident, and why we applaud their quick action and investigations that led to two charges of rape being laid against the perpetrator. 

So many people have asked, over the last week, what Bolt does to make it safe for people in South Africa to use the service – the service that provides 40,000 drivers with a livelihood, putting food on the table, keeping kids in school, and helping pay for life-saving medication. 

I can wholeheartedly assure you that safety for everyone that uses the platform – drivers and passengers – is our top priority, most particularly because of the violent nature of South African society. 

That’s why we’re currently in discussions with Agisanang Domestic Abuse Prevention and Training (ADAPT), which works with men as an effective strategy to changing social values and structural factors that perpetuate violence against women, with the intention of rolling out several programmes to drivers in the coming months.

Our safety steps for passengers are detailed on our website, and shared through regular emailed reminders to those that use the platform as well as via social media, but here’s another reminder of what we do to make Bolt as safe as possible for passengers: 

  1. Drivers require a Professional Driving Permit issued by local authorities to be accepted onto the Bolt platform. This permit is only granted to applicants who obtain a Police Clearance Certificate from the SAPS. 
  2. In addition to the Police Clearance, Bolt requires additional Criminal Background Checks – as an extra layer of driver verification – which are performed by an independent provider, Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE).
  3. Before they even get into a vehicle, the passenger has a photo of the driver, knows the driver’s name, their car registration, their car make and model, how many trips the driver has completed in the past, and the average rating secured by the driver from all of their previous passengers. No other form of public transport offers this level of information about the driver. 
  4. They also know how long it will take the driver to reach them, and they can track the driver’s progress towards their pick-up point. Upon the arrival of the driver, passengers are able to ask the driver a variety of questions – that only the driver that was specified in the Bolt app would know the answers to – before they enter the car, providing an additional layer of safety for every trip. No other form of public transport offers this level of information about the driver. 
  5. Bolt Women Only offers women the choice of hailing a ride with a woman driver, for the same rate as would be charged on a regular Bolt ride.
  6. The ‘Share my ETA’ function lets passengers share their trip details and progress with any trusted individual – meaning that any delay in their arrival is flagged immediately.
  7. Drivers and passengers have a SOS button in their app that alerts Namola to send a private emergency response if there is an incident. 
  8. When complaints of a severe nature are received, Bolt activates its Safety Team to immediately investigate. There is nothing we take more seriously than the safety of the people who use our platform. 
  9. Any driver implicated in an incident that is being investigated by SAPS is immediately suspended from the platform until the investigation is complete, and is only cleared to drive with the platform again once they have been cleared by SAPS of any wrongdoing.
  10. Any driver convicted of a crime is removed from the platform permanently.
  11. We are investing our time and resources to introduce consolidated safety features to tackle issues of driver impersonation, riders who use the platform for criminal activity, and an improved all-round trip experience. 

We’ve heard concerns about drivers’ profiles being made available to rent or buy. We’d like to reassure you that Bolt prohibits drivers from authorising any other person to use their Bolt Driver Account in any way whatsoever, including renting profiles to any other person at all. Bolt has blocked and removed drivers who were in violation of our platform rules and will continue to enforce this as Bolt will exercise zero-tolerance for such misconduct. 

Renting a profile to someone or from someone constitutes an act of fraud, and Bolt will not hesitate to lay charges of fraud with the South African Police Service (SAPS) if its investigations reveal that an individual has committed either of these crimes.

We have appointed forensic investigators to look into the issue of individuals using social media to rent out profiles, and will continue to engage with the various social media platforms to have these groups shut down. We continue to liaise with specialist SAPS units on this matter. 

Bolt continues to work with the National, Provincial, and Local Government to make e-hailing safer, and we do everything we can to support any SAPS investigation into any incident that takes place during a Bolt trip. The information we’ve provided has led to the trial and conviction of perpetrators in the past, just as it has led to the arrest and charging of the driver involved in last week’s incident.  

Just as we protect the safety and interests of the passengers that use the platform, Bolt also needs to take care of the drivers that use the platform. Bolt drivers are men and women who would otherwise have access to fewer opportunities to earn an income, in a country with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. 

Earning an income by driving more than one million passengers per month in South Africa gives these more than 40,000 drivers the dignity of a regular income, and the economic power to participate meaningfully in South Africa’s economy.

Drivers have to meet a minimum set of requirements – including having no criminal record – before they join the platform as self-employed micro-entrepreneurs who pay a commission for being able to connect to passengers. 

They are held to high standards of conduct, measured by the very people that they drive around via the rating tool that’s offered at the end of every trip, which is why it’s so important for passengers to rate every trip upon completion. In the unfortunate event of a one-star rating from a passenger, Bolt automatically ensures they will never be connected with that driver again. 

Bolt does everything it can to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers, in the context of South Africa’s complex society. There are however some things that Bolt has to depend on other parties to do, as we don’t have the legal standing to do them ourselves – but we are fully committed to supporting those parties that do. Some examples are: 

  • Bolt can conduct an internal investigation based on available information on the app, including driver and rider activity on each trip. We share that information with SAPS, so that the victim can lay charges with SAPS, who in turn will have sufficient data to proceed with their investigations ahead of handing over documents to the NPA.  
  • Bolt relies on the country’s judicial system to try and sentence someone who is standing trial because they have been accused of wrongdoing. We strongly believe in the process of the judicial system and its role to bring people to justice. 
  • We are prohibited from sharing  passenger and driver data outside of the context of a criminal investigation, as we are bound by the conditions of South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act, and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). We are eager  to uphold these requirements, as they are yet another layer of protection for the people that use the platform. 
  • Bolt cannot be held accountable for content that individuals post on social media, including on pages that are illegally set up to rent or sell platforms. As should any person who sees illegal activity happening, we report them to the platforms as being illegal – and we urge anyone else who comes across them to do the same. 

Since we launched in South Africa more than five years ago, Bolt has invested over  R1 billion into building the community that uses the platform via discounts to passengers and incentives and rewards to drivers.

This contribution to the economy is in addition to the economic opportunities made possible for drivers, and the simple right and pleasure for more than one million people each month being able to travel door-to-door, on-demand, safely, and affordably. 

Thank you so much for the time you’ve taken to read this letter. The e-hailing environment is a complex one, as is true of so many industries in South Africa. Nonetheless, I joined because I truly believe that it can make a meaningful, positive change in the lives of the people that live in this amazing country. 

Warm regards,

Gareth Taylor 

Bolt Regional Manager – SADC

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