Country Manager, Bolt Nigeria, Yahaya Mohammed, speaks with JUSTICE OKAMGBA on some of the challenges confronting the e-hailing industry, and how the company has been tackling unethical offline practices among drivers
What is the future of e-hailing business in Nigeria?
We have got some competition, especially from other e-hailing companies but then, Nigeria is a massive market. And it is consistently growing, especially in the urban population. Hence, the demand for transportation services continues to increase. We rightly believe that the market has not reached its maturity but it has a potential to grow, despite the challenges from the surge of fuel prices. Bolt as a service is to complement the public transport system. It can cater to the demands of the growing middle class in the country.
There is a future for ride-hailing as we have seen the rise of fintech in the country, as Nigerians continue to leverage their services to make life easier. There is also an increase in smartphone penetration. The competition is there, but there is room for every player in the market.
What is your market size in the industry? Are you able to meet up with the demands of e-hailing services?
The market size is good. There has been a reduction in both demand and supply. The removal of fuel subsidy led to an increase in fuel prices. In terms of meeting up with the current demand, yes, we are meeting up with the demands.
Drivers using Corolla brand of cars have become targets for criminals. How are you doing to mitigate this challenge?
We currently have some safety features on the app whereby you can have an audio recording while you are on a trip. You can do an SOS emergency service and be able to also share when a rider joins the ride on the go. These are features to ensure safety. We also try to ensure all our rides are insured and we are able to cover up some items in case they are missing. Specifically, there is life insurance available for our drivers so that we can provide that level of coverage for our drivers.
Also, in terms of making the platform safer, due to the drivers’ concerns, we are also looking towards having rider verification because we already have drivers’ verification. So, we are looking at how to have those elements of verification to ensure safety on both sides. We are trying to get additional information to enhance our experience and get closer to our drivers.
Because for us, we can have a lot of information about our riders and drivers and launch to make sure that everybody’s safe on the platform as much as we could.
Our Safety Summit is coming up in Lagos, which would act as a roundtable for us to share more of our views and see what we can do.
Some of the drivers on your platform complain about low earnings. How are you handling these complaints?
I think just to address the first part of your question around earnings and the full amount of the trip then bought or things get as commission on the trip. As you’re well aware, our commission for each trip is 20 per cent. So, I can safely guarantee that drivers do earn money on the platform. The talks about earnings not being sufficient are understandable given the state of the economy and the increase in fuel prices.
However, it is a delicate balance that needs to be established for the right prices. To ensure that there is adequate demand from the riders, to ensure that they are on the platform. So, in terms of creating this balance, we do use our commission to subsidise a lot to provide the right bonuses for drivers.
How are you dealing with the unethical practices of your drivers using the Bolt app to get bookings and resort to offline negotiation with riders?
Offline trip is something that we highly discourage for both riders and drivers. And guys, whenever we take an offline trip, it is extremely unethical and it does not help the app. But for the rider and the driver, you put yourself at a lot of risk, because you do not have any access to the safety features that I mentioned, such as audio recording, and emergency services.
I also mentioned that our rides are all insured. So, when you eventually do take this offline trip, you miss out on most of the insurance. So, if you miss any property or anything, it is harder to recover. And if you are not monitored, it does not give you the safety that the app provides. Overall, it is something that we discourage and it is something that has led to us suspending both riders and drivers from the outside, as it is simply a very harmful practice.
Some Nigerians want to be on the Bolt platform but do not have the financial power to own a car. Do you have car financing schemes?
Car financing is something that we have been doing. We have been working with partners to implement this. We work with a range of partners to do some level of car matching. So, we find interested drivers and match them with fleet owners who have cars and can thrive and perform. We also have a few programmes where we are helping to subsidise cars and work with car operational management companies to help with sourcing these vehicles, providing them with a drive, and making them available to drivers. So, it is something that we are currently doing and we hope to expand in the future.
What are your thoughts on electric vehicles?
Bolt as a company, we aim to make cities for people, not cars. So, our entire population is dedicated to reducing private car ownership, congestion, and pollution in many cities. So, that is mainly in Lagos. If you have been to Lagos or if you live here, you will understand that there is a need to focus on these issues that we work with.
So, EVs are part of the future and apart from the massive benefits to the environment, there will be higher earnings for drivers, because ultimately, with lower operating costs and maintenance costs, you will often just have to charge the car. And it is far cheaper than the current prices of petrol and ultimately, less must be managed as a product as opposed to petrol vehicles.
So, it is something we are looking at. We are sensitive that there will be good affordability, comfort, and adoption by riders. And ultimately, it is just about finding the right engine sites. make financial sense and wait for the infrastructure to be up to date in these cities before we can launch something viable.
What are some of the current issues affecting the e-hailing business?
The issues are self-evident. These are general macroeconomic issues such as foreign exchange. The scarcity of forex affects the drivers and the cost of replacing parts. For example, if you have to replace your gearbox or tyre, you would need forex because there are no things we produce locally. They have to be importers. With the fluctuation in foreign exchange, it means operational costs become higher.
Do you have any initiative that you plan to roll out for the benefit of the industry?
Yes. We do have a range of initiatives. For example, in Lagos, we have launched our economic category which has a 5 per cent payback commission to drivers and ultimately makes it more affordable for riders and the drivers can gain more by increasing the number of orders due to the subsidised trips.
We also have daily and weekly campaign bonuses for drivers when a certain number of trips are achieved. Available to drivers as well has been our car branding. So, I don’t know if you have noticed. We have been branding Bolt cars in specific cities. Also, in Lagos, drivers can earn up to N74,000 a month by simply having branded cars. And it is just an initiative that would help income drivers, especially during these precarious times. And it will also really help to subsidise a lot of the costs.
We are looking at what we term secondary products, which is having three-wheelers available in certain cities. So, places like Uyo, Kano, Enugu have keke available for them to be able to take trips. So, we are essentially expanding the scope of supply and the range of options that are available for riders.
Is there any reason Corolla cars are recommended for this business?
Two key things come to mind. It is fuel economical. So, it is very easy to have a very good fuel-efficient car. It is a very good show of an efficient car. So, it is very necessary for you to maximise your income and for the availability and car parts. It is a Japanese car that has very popular car parts within the market and something that comes with easy maintenance costs and everything. So, these are the two primary reasons it has become the popular choice for drivers.