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Bolt Drivers Accused of Extortion

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"On Friday a driver called Martin Luther was picking me up and my estimated price was Shillings 5,000. However the driver told me I would have to top up by 10,000 because there was traffic jam," Kimera said.
23 Jan 2020 10:10
According to customer's, the drivers have stopped using the meter attached to the application and are setting their own fares

Audio 5

Some Bolt cab drivers have stopped using the billing system on the company application and resorted to fixing prices.  Normally, when one orders a Bolt cab or Boda boda, the application gives an indicative fare.

   

On a good day without traffic jam, customers get to pay either what the application showed or even less than what was indicated. During peak hours, a surge fee of 1.5 percent is added onto the fare. 

However, some Bolt cab drivers have taken matters into their own hands. When a customer orders for a cab after 7:00 pm, such drivers make the courtesy call to establish the location of the passenger but also caution them about the fare. 

Charles Kimera is one of the victims of the extortion. "On Friday a driver called Martin Luther was picking me up and my estimated price was Shillings 5,000. However the driver told me I would have to top up by 10,000 because there was traffic jam," Kimera said.  

Our reporter URN tried using the Bolt application and went through a similar. A driver only identified as Shafic informed the reporter that they would have to double the fare because the application had stopped billing clients. Later, Shafic informed the reporter that the top up was to cover costs of fuel and vehicle rental.  

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Some cab users told URN that the cab company needs to make it more profitable for drivers if they want to maintain their clients. Maria Kalule, a resident of Muyenga says that the increase in the fares is unfortunate because many people had begun warming up to the cab service. 

She says Bolt needs to sit down with the cab driver and revise rates so that customer are protected.  

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Sarah Nantume says the practice of drivers increasing the taxi fares isn’t new. She says she suspects that it something that Bolt is well aware of but is not interested in addressing. 

“After cheating you, the moment you complain to the company, you are given your money back. They give you a promotion and this has been happening since the beginning. The only difference now is that you do not get to complain because the driver warns you before setting off to come pick you that he is hiking the price. So you are warned,” Nantume said.

Elizabeth Kintu, another cab user says that due to the many irregularities that she has encountered with taxi services in the country, she has resorted to warning drivers not to think about increasing the fare before she enters their cars.

 

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She however, notes that the company needs to revise its charges because most drivers are pushed into cheating customers due to low fares.  

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Timothy  Gabula, a student at Makerere University says that something needs to be done urgently by Bolt to rescue both their drivers and customers.  

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An employee the Bolt Help desk, who only identified herself as Sandra, told our reporter that some of the differences in fares are caused by drivers using phones with poor Global Positioning Systems-GPS. The company tried to address the problem last year by banning phones that were deemed to have poor GPS. Ankunda, one of the few female Bolt drivers says that the phones are not the problem but rather the way the company wants to make back its investment.    

"How can you expect a Taxi driver to afford an iphone or Samsung phone worth Shillings 2 million? The phone ban was useless. Other companies still use those phones that were banned but their customers don’t complain about being cheated. Drivers are cheating because the company is giving them very little money on each ride," Ankunda said. 

URN tried to get a comment from the management of Bolt Uganda as none of the employees was willing to talk. Bolt is an international company with branches in over 35 countries in the world. It was founded by Markus Villing in 2013. It entered the Ugandan market in 2018 after it bought Taxify, another cab services provider that was already operational in the country.