Bolt Go can be cheaper than driving your own car - but waiting times are long, and drivers few

Business Insider SA
boly go
Bolt is offering a new service.
  • Bolt Go is at least 20% cheaper than the Bolt classic service, but if Bolt is running a promotion on its app, a more generous discount may apply.
  • In recent months, Bolt drivers have protested against the impact the new service has on their earnings.  
  • In response, Bolt has deliberately limited the number of drivers on Go.
  • Uber is now testing a similar, cheaper option.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider South Africa.

Bolt Go, the e-hailing service’s cheaper option, can cost you less than driving your own car, but users can expect long waits, and a frustrating lack of drivers for this option.

Bolt rolled out the service, which is 20% cheaper, nationwide in July, but Business Insider South Africa found that it is often unavailable on the app, largely due to a lack of drivers. Uber is now also testing a similar, cheaper option.

While Bolt has over 25,000 registered drivers, many are unwilling to support the Go service because of the low rate they earn per trip.

“Most drivers don’t like Go as it pays meagre rates. Go is not worth it and so the drivers are not interested,” a Bolt driver told Business Insider. Strikes in July and again in October highlighted unhappiness of Bolt drivers about the Go service.

Gareth Taylor, Bolt South Africa’s manager, told Business Insider that the company had deliberately limited the number of drivers on Go as many Bolt drivers, especially in the greater Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban areas.

Outside the three big metros, in small cities like places like East London, Port Elizabeth, Polokwane, Thohoyandou, and Rustenburg, about 40% of the Bolt trips were Go rides, Taylor said.

However, in the big three metros, Go trips make up less than 15% of trips to limit the cannibalisation of higher-priced options. But in time, the market share of the Go service could go up to 40% in the big metros too, he predicted.

Typically, the expected wait time in Johannesburg for a quoted Bolt classic trip is three to four minutes, while the indicative wait time for a Go trip can be 12 minutes.

Sometimes the Bolt app shows that even when there are many Bolt drivers in your vicinity, there are none available for a Go trip, possibly because the demand for the Bolt classic is high enough and so they have no incentive to switch to Go.

It also seems as if drivers accept a Go trip, and then cancel it before they arrive if a more lucrative Bolt classic trip comes up in the interim. This situation is highly frustrating for the rider and dramatically extends the time for them to complete their journey.

Business Insider took a 13km Go trip, which included a promotional discount, on 26 October in Johannesburg that cost R44, equal to a cost of R3.38 per km.

At that rate of R3.38 per km, it is almost worth leaving your car at home and using Go, especially for long trips, when one compares it to the South African Revenue Service’s (Sars) prescribed vehicle wear-and-tear allowance for the 2019/2020 tax year of R3.61 per km.

Another example is a trip from the north of Johannesburg to Lanseria International Airport, which is a distance of about 20km.

At the Sars wear-and-tear rate that trip would cost R72, while the Go service quote can be R119 or R5.95 per km. By comparison, the standard Bolt service quote can be R157 or R7.85 per km for the journey, and UberX quote for the trip is R218 or R10.9 per km.

Taylor said that the pricing of the Go service was not a flash in the pan.

“The Go price in the big metros is higher than the price we have in East London. Go has been operating there for a couple of years, and people are quite happy with the service,” he added.

Bolt uses a 2019 Toyota Etios 1.5Xi as its benchmark vehicle for its Go service. Such a car costs R1.35 per km for fuel and R1.32 per km for finance and wear and tear expenses, for a total running cost per km of R2.67, according to the Automobile Association (as quoted by Bolt).

These two estimates are after deducting Bolt commission and fees, as well as fuel and other running costs.

The Go service allowed drivers to maximise their revenue per hour, but they would need to make more trips than when they chose Bolt’s regular service. On average, a Bolt driver in Johannesburg who services Go trips was earning R20 more per hour than drivers who only did Bolt classic, according to Bolt.

To show what a driver could earn on Go, Taylor provided the example of the top-earning driver in Johannesburg in September, who achieved R48,541 in revenue of which R42,286 or 85% of that total figure involved Go trips. Taylor said that the driver concerned worked over ten hours a day for most days of September.

While Bolt drivers that Business Insider spoke to were sceptical about these figures, they admitted that demand from riders for Go is exceptional.

“With Go, you are always busy. It is a trip after a trip,” a Bolt driver said.

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