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Beset by NTSA tough demands, Bolt’s licence renewal remains on ice

Bolt entered Kenya in 2016 as Taxify.

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By Monica MUEMA

The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) has declined to renew the licence of taxi-hailing company Bolt over alleged breaches.

Bolt’s current licence was issued on October 28 last year and is set to expire in the next 17 days.

News sources reveal that Bolt had written to the transport sector regulator seeking the restitution of its operating licence, but that request was thwarted on a number of explanations.

Those reasons include:

  1. Illegal commission charges and booking fee
  2. Non-compliance and violation of regulations
  3. Breach on the provisions of Transportation Network Companies (TNC), Owners, Drivers and Passengers Regulations, 2022.

Other complains, from users in markets like Nigeria include;

  1. Bolt drivers aiding police to illegally capture and extort riders
  2. Not holding the same standards as its rival, Uber

But since most ride-hailing companies do not share information between each other on disciplinary matters, drivers ejected from one platform easily join another, starting over on a clean slate.

“A number of drivers that I know of, but I don’t know personally, had incidents where Uber flagged and sent them off but Bolt welcomed them with open hands…even though Uber doesn’t do some of these things again, we still get a sense that because of cost and its International market, Uber is still more refined than Bolt,” lamented one user as quoted by TechCabal news outlet.

“App is full of thieves and the app protects these thieves from facing the law. My goods were stolen by a rider with bolt app and till date bolt refuses to share the rider’s plate for the police to act despite sharing an ob. with them,” said Arthur Adema, a Kenyan user.

The firm (Bolt) operates ride-hailing and delivery services in six African countries— Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and Tunisia— with over 47 million customers and 900,000 drivers on the platform.

The regulator has ordered Bolt to provide a breakdown of the commission rates currently in effect, highlighting specific instances where rates have exceeded the allowed maximum of 18 percent.

Bolt is also required to explain the rationale behind its commission structure and also cease what NTSA describes as the illegal booking fee and ensure strict compliance with the regulations.

The regulations bar taxi-hailing firms from setting drivers’ commissions’ at more than 18 percent. It also bars them from charging booking fees as additional charges on drivers beyond the commissions.

The Estonia-headquartered taxi-hailing firm faces the race against time to comply with the NTSA orders if it is to remain in operation past October 28.

A global problem? 

Similar disaster ensued to Uber in 2017 when UK London’s transport regulator rejected an application by the firm to renew its license to operate in the city. TfL said at the time that it had concluded that Uber was “not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator licence”.

Uber was accused of among other breaches on;

  1. Its approach to reporting serious criminal offences
  2. Its approach to how medical certificates is obtained
  3. Its approach to how Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks are obtained — which relates to carrying out background checks to ensure workers do not have a criminal record
  4. Its approach to explaining the use of Greyball in London — software that could be used to block regulatory bodies from gaining full access to the app and prevent officials from undertaking regulatory or law enforcement duties.

Bolt’s swift retort  

But in quick response to these allegations, Bolt said it was committing to the Kenyan market, and it would adhere to local regulations, a pledge it said, “remains a top priority as it is foundational to building a long-term sustainable business that positively contributes to all stakeholders in the ecosystem.

We remain open to collaborative dialogue with our regulator, driver partners and the wider public to continually ensure full compliance with regulation and expand income generation within our platform,” reacted the firm Wednesday afternoon in a statement.

Further, the company said that, “During our tenure of over seven years in the market, we have actively sought input from both government as well as driver partners, to ensure that we remain within the guidelines provided by the government.

As such, Bolt currently has a valid licence and is fully operational. As part of the ongoing annual licence renewal process, we will continue to work closely with the regulator for a fruitful result.”

Last year, Bolt was issued with a Transport Network Company licence, effective 28th October 2022 and said it has remained “fully compliant with the stipulated regulation to cap its commission rate at 18% for drivers using our application.”

To ensure efficiency on its platform and the continued innovation and enhancement of its technological features, Bolt said it charges a fixed percentage booking fee that is paid by the passenger.

The firm also said it plans an investment of 100 million euros in the local market to further increase of its footprint across the country by expanding services into more cities and town centres.

“Ultimately, we remain confident that we will continue to provide affordable and convenient services for passengers across the country whilst simultaneously providing earning opportunities to many Kenyans,” said the company.

Ride-hailing companies are faced with a human problem; riders and drivers are humans with flaws.

It’s inevitable that there’d be clashes, however, these negative experiences can be reduced by improving the screening process and adjusting the rider experience to reward the type of behaviors they want to see.

These increasing recurrent complaints over the years are a clear writing on the wall that the strategy that got Bolt here, won’t keep them.

 

Additional reporting by TechCabal, Business Daily

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