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Welfare row hobbles e-hailing transport, prospects

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Protesting drivers. PHOTO:BENJAMIN ALADE


Uber and Bolt drivers, under the aegis of Professional E-hailing Drivers and Partners Association (PEDPA), recently embarked on a one-week industrial action to demand higher share of commissions due to spike in fuel cost and sundry effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The action, which saw members of the association carrying placards with the inscriptions, ‘e-hailing drivers and lease partners are the owners of transport service’, ‘We are humans and not baboons’, ‘Uber/Bolt must respect the dignity of Labour’, ‘Uber/Bolt, we say no to impunity,’ recorded representations from local governments in Lagos State.

The action, however, saw a spike in the demand for rides during the seven days action. The two companies are the biggest players in Nigeria’s ride-hailing industry and have competed for years since their entry into the market in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

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They have competed in the area of pricing, with each operator giving promos and lowering fares to try to win over new customers. Yet, over the years, there have been claims that the pricing wars came at the expense of drivers.

Now Uber and Bolt drivers want the pricing to be reviewed, to reflect the cost of operation. They also want both companies to reduce the commission charged on rides from 25 to 10 per cent.

Idris Shonuga is the National President of PEDPA, an association formed in 2019 and affiliated with the Trade Union Congress (TUC) of Nigeria. Shonuga said: “What they (Uber and Bolt) do is to deploy an app, which facilitates links with riders and they charge a commission. We bear the running costs of fuelling the car and take all the associated risk of managing and running our vehicles.

“Unfortunately, they fail to give us a say. They keep fixing the price ridiculously low and we’re selling below the cost price.” Shonuga said it has become almost impossible for e-hailing drivers to make a living driving for Bolt or Uber, when inflation keeps driving prices upward while cost of service remains static.

“You are seeing several accidents on Lagos roads because drivers are overworking themselves to make very little money. This is systemic slavery of Nigerian youths; many of whom are driving because of unemployment.”

According to Shonuga’s analogy, for Uber and Bolt drivers to make ₦15, 000 in revenue daily, they have to spend a minimum of 10 hours on Lagos roads. Shonuga also estimates that ₦4,950 will be used to fuel the car and then Uber or Bolt will charge ₦3,750 in fees. After 10-15 hours of work, drivers may be left with around ₦6,300, which at the lowest end is ₦630 for every hour they work.

“But it gets worse when you consider that many of the drivers on these platforms get the cars they use through hire-purchase agreements that require them to pay ₦20,000 – ₦30,000 per week.

Drivers said these conditions are unfavourable and wanted to be part of the price negotiation meetings. They also want these companies to reduce the commission on rides to 10 per cent.

Country Manager, Bolt, Nigeria, Femi Akin-Laguda, told The Guardian that the company valued drivers on its platform and was committed to their overall social and economic welfare.

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Akin-Laguda said the e-hailing firm invested in efforts to collect, track and analyse the net revenues and total expenses of drivers utilising the platform.
He listed the investment to include: analysing net earnings per hour on the platform across all cities they operate in, and invest in marketing incentives to boost drivers’ revenues.

“We also collect and track all other expenses incidental to the ride-hailing services provided -these include but are not limited to vehicle leasing/instalment costs, fuel, car wash, airtime and internet bundles. This analysis forms a major part of our pricing strategy in every city.

“We are constantly evaluating our operations to ensure we continue to provide the best earnings for drivers on the platform even as we still remain the most preferred platform for passengers,” he said.

Besides fees, another demand PEDPA has is for drivers who have been blocked by both platforms to be unblocked. They also called for proper profiling of riders as most riders according to the drivers are wrongly profiled, which poses security threat to drivers.

In addition, the association decried insecurity of drivers as they are being kidnapped while information of such incidents is not properly provided.

“You are expected to provide five-star service on every trip. Even if you have over 1,000 trips with 5-star ratings, but you get reported for anything at all, you get blocked from the platform.”

Shonuga believes that this approach is unfair and that while bad actors should be punished, the companies should take a nuanced approach in dealing with these issues, adding that the association would consider judiciary reprieve for drivers that lost their lives in the cause of duty.

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