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Taxify: New name, same safety risks

Luke Jordan is the CEO of Grassroot, a community organizing tech start-up he founded in 2015. He worked at the World Bank in India from 2011-14, and at McKinsey in China from 2005-10. He writes in his personal capacity, and the views expressed here do not reflect those of Grassroot or any other organization with which he may be affiliated.

The focus on ride-hailing services is shifting, as it should, to the safety of passengers and what the various apps are doing to protect us. If a driver can disappear, with a set of keys or with a passenger, that protection is null and void.

A couple of weeks ago the app known as Taxify changed its name to “Bolt”. The PR spin said this was about diversifying into scooters, or electric cars, or similar. What seems to remain constant though is the app’s less-than-reassuring safety features.

Back in February 2019, after a couple of incidents including an attack in the Western Cape, Taxify published a post about staying safe and was pressured to improve its vetting standards. Talk to any ride-hailing driver and they’ll tell you many a story about these “vetting standards”, and how easy they are to pass. But one thing that would seem vital for the safety of any rider is the ability to find a driver after a trip. If drivers can simply disappear, then any time you take a ride you’re effectively at their mercy.

Unfortunately, there’s clear evidence that Taxify has, in fact, no ability to keep track of its drivers. I had a personal and unambiguous experience of this last week. On Wednesday 27 March, I took a Taxify ride. During that ride, I believe I left my keys in the car. This is, of course, my fault, but the point is what happened afterwards. I finished the trip at 11am, and realised by 2pm that the keys were gone – within three hours. I immediately tried to call the driver using the phone number he had registered on Taxify.

The call to the driver’s registered number went straight to Voicemail lite. I tried again a dozen times in the next 36 hours. Always, straight to Voicemail lite. Clearly, the driver had registered a temporary phone with Taxify, discarded it, and Taxify had no idea that had happened.

I then lodged a support request using the app. First, the support service misread my message, and gave me a standard copy-and-paste answer about losing a phone. I clarified that the issue was my keys, and that I couldn’t get hold of the driver.

The support service then stated they also could not contact the driver. I pointed out that if Taxify cannot trace or contact a driver that is a massive safety risk. They provided no answer. I continued to ask, and received only one further update, on Thursday. The response was “we will use other means to get hold of the driver”.

Despite a dozen further requests for clarity about where the driver was, I received no further responses from customer support for several days. Finally, on Sunday, I received a message that Taxify still could not find the driver, but to quote:

On the other hand, I am sharing with you your driver’s phone number so you can contact him directly.”

They then sent me the same non-functional phone number I had already tried for days, proving Taxify (or Bolt) does not have any backup phone number. There is also no apparent means to escalate within the support service in the app. I emailed Taxify/Bolt’s press and Johannesburg offices and received no response.

It seems therefore undeniable that Taxify/Bolt does not have the ability to reliably track its drivers. Drivers can disappear and become unreachable, within two hours of a ride. It also does not have the ability to spot or escalate issues to do with tracking or tracing drivers.

Luckily, this is an issue merely of some keys, and the driver did not pick me up at home. But if I had been abducted, or worse, Bolt would clearly have no ability to find me, because it cannot reliably find its drivers, either a few hours after a ride or two days later.

For the past few years, the dominant issue with ride-hailing has been about the violence waged by metered taxis and the lack of regulation. Now, at least in some places, the metered taxis seem to have given up. A National Land Transport Bill is on its way through Parliament and should finally put in place some regulatory oversight. The focus is shifting, as it should, to the safety of passengers and what various apps are doing to protect us.

If a driver can disappear, with a set of keys or with a passenger, that protection is null and void. In the UK, Uber was provisionally banned from London when it could not show it was taking safety seriously. Whether now or under the new bill, the case seems clear for Bolt or Taxify to have its licence suspended until it can prove that it can keep track of its drivers.

In the meantime, even if it is usually a little cheaper than its competition, it might be worth remembering that the R10 saved on the ride or the hassle saved from driving might come at the expense of disappearing. DM


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