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Ride-hailing adapts to social distance

Bolt has introduced physical protection in cars, while Uber has added checklists and health feedback to its app – along with support of those impacted by the pandemic

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Demand has surged across South Africa for ride-hailing vehicles with additional COVID-19 physical protection measures installed between the front and rear seats of the vehicles, while new functions have been added to the Bolt and Uber apps.

The shift is due both to healthcare and essential services workers and their employers choosing to use specialist ride-hailing vehicles, and the need for safer public transport.

A new Bolt Isolated Car service is the first ride-hailing service in South Africa to offer extra protection, starting in Johannesburg during March 2020, with an initial 500 vehicles.

“Vehicles have a protective barrier installed between the front and back seats, providing a physical shield between the driver and their passenger, limiting the airflow between the drivers and riders inside the cars,” says Gareth Taylor, country manager for Bolt in South Africa.

In accordance with current regulations, it is mandatory for drivers and passengers in these cars to wear face masks, while passengers must sanitise their hands on entering the vehicle, and drivers are required to ventilate and sanitise the car between every trip. Both Bolt and Uber have introduced these measures.

Uber has also introduced a new Door-to-Door Safety Standard, that combines expert advice with Uber’s technology. For each trip, the rider must confirm they’ve taken specific safety steps, including wearing a face cover or mask and cleaning hands. Drivers are  required to complete a similar checklist.

Uber also uses Face Mask Check technology to help confirm that drivers are wearing a face cover or a mask before they can start driving. Riders are able to leave feedback on health and cleanliness issues, such as a driver not wearing a face cover or a mask.

Bolt says its Isolated Car category costs the same as a regular Bolt ride, despite the extra safety measures and limits on passenger numbers.

In order to meet escalating passenger demand for these vehicles, says Bolt, it has boosted the number vehicles registered on the platform that have these protection measures to 3,000, and expanded the service offering beyond Johannesburg to Cape Town and Durban.

“We anticipate that Bolt Isolated Cars are likely to be even more popular under Level 3 as COVID-19 lockdown conditions relax and more South Africans are able to return to work – many of them concerned about using public transport due to social distancing fears,” says Taylor.

Because of this expected demand, Bolt has announced plans to double the number of vehicles by subsidising the installation of the protection measures in a further 4,000 vehicles registered on the Bolt platform.

Taylor says he anticipates continued demand specifically from healthcare, laboratory and other essential services workers, but also from workers in sectors that can start work again under Level 3, and they or their employers do not want to or cannot use public transport.

Under Level 3 regulations, for example, employers of non-live-in domestic staff might want to provide private transport for their workers for their safety should they wish them to return to their duties. In such cases, Bolt Isolated Cars can be a cost-effective and safe solution.

Taylor says he expects that employers who need their workers to get to work by means other than public transport will subsidise the ride-hailing fares, or they can set up post-paid accounts on the Bolt Business platform, where they can allocate budgets, record trips, and manage expense claims easily.

“Bolt has responded quickly throughout the lockdown period to create solutions that have helped essential services workers get to work safely, while also ensuring that drivers using the platform continue to earn an income,” Taylor says. “The company’s recent successful funding round will further support our plans to expand our services and our footprint, to further meet South Africans’ transport needs.”

Uber, for its part, has entered a partnership with LifeHealthCare, providing 25% off trips to their qualifying staff as they remain in the frontline of healthcare. A partnership with YES4Youth will help procure and distribute reusable cloth masks to driver-partners and delivery people to ensure their safety, while a partnership with Afrika Tikkun, a non-profit organisation supporting underprivileged communities, will help feed vulnerable communities, including Uber driver-partners and delivery people impacted most heavily by the lockdown.

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