Hailing a taxi on the internet has become so commonplace that may Kenyans are taking for granted the fact that digital hailing companies that connect them with random drivers are in charge of their security.
Features such as live location, matching the number plate of the Bolt operator with the one that appears on the application are rarely used as riders assume the tech companies have vetted their drivers and are in control.
The reality is very different as Erica Gachoka, 26, daughter of media personality, Ciku Muiruri, and her friend Shanice Agose, 27, learnt on June 4 when the called in a Bolt taxi, after attending a house party in Westlands, Nairobi
The two requested for a ride to Kilimani, via the bolt taxi app and ended up kidnapped for a week while their captors demanded ransom from their distressed families.
When Uber landed in Kenya it sought to assure customers they would have their back having done background checks on their drivers and with strict policies to keep them disciplined and compliant with local regulations like licensing and insurance.
But as Uber was muscling out old school drivers, Taxify moved in its shadows. Bolt’s strategy according to Markus Villig was to offer customers discounts to incentivise them to use their platform and therefore assure drivers even more traffic.
Kenyans jumped on the discounts ride en masse which made the application very attractive to drivers. Taxify which later rebranded as Bolt was, however, unable meet this huge demand while maintaining Uber-like discipline in onboarding drivers.
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Bolt it was laissez faire saw licenses expire, drivers upload cars that were not their on the platform while others created accounts only to rent them out to unregistered drivers which saw criminals and those reported by customers sneak back onto the platform.
And soon the company was dealing with a public relations nightmare of allegations of rogue drivers and cases of assault and now kidnappings.
This raises the question as to whether we are safe in Bolt. People are now wondering if the e-hail taxis are a safe option for transportation, especially to women, girls and children as they are the most vulnerable in such situations.
“Bolt app is a serious security risk. Many of the drivers are using vehicles with plates which do not match what is on the app”, Tweeted Robert Alai, MCA for Kileleshwa ward.
Kenyans complained about being dropped off at the wrong place, lost goods during delivery, the app managers refusing to help the clients recover the lost goods by giving the details of the drivers to the police and some said the drivers are very rude and lack proper customer relation skills.
The security risks associated with traditional taxi transportation still apply to the e-hail taxi services. However, some emergent issues are unique to the app-based taxi hailing services given the prevalence of digital taxi in a country with high level of unemployment and crime rates.
As the risks of abductions, carjacking, sexual harassment, murders, robbery and burglaries become prevalent digital applications and users will need to be more vigilant.
The Bolt app company should most importantly beyond their statement reassess their business model to show more accountability and responsibility for their customers by making it a priority to ‘sanitize’ their work force and ensure that their employees are credible even at the cost of reducing the number of cabs on their platform.