[Interview] Covid-19 pandemic made us more innovative, Ola Akinnusi, Bolt Country Manager says

Just like in many other sectors, the coronavirus pandemic has adversely affected the cab-hailing industry across the global markets. In most of these countries including Kenya, shops and businesses have shuttered and offices emptied out. As expected this has resulted in less demand for cab services.

Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Bolt are experiencing pressure from the coronavirus pandemic. The Canaccord Genuity pricing tracker, in a recent report, noted that ride-share fares dropped by 6% month over month in March. Locally, here in Kenya, Bolt, Uber and other players in the market are already feeling the pressure as travel restrictions and lockdowns keep increasing. 

In China, where the virus was first reported, transport services were down by 50%. According to data by Aurora Mobile, a leading mobile big data solutions platform in China, the daily active users on ride-sharing apps declined by more than half after the Chinese government declared the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Things are not different back here in Kenya.

‘’Consumer behaviour has completely changed in the last couple of months, people are going out less and this has negatively affected our business’’ Ola Akinnusi, Country Manager For Bolt, formerly Taxify said in an interview with TechTrendsKE.

‘’When we have lockdowns and basically things that limit the movement of people and goods from one place to another, of course, these guidelines, which we fully support are going to have a negative impact on businesses like ours,’’ added Ola.

Post-COVID-19, the global ride-sharing market size was projected to grow at a Y-O-Y growth of 55.6% from 2020 to 2021, to reach USD 117.34 billion by 2021 from USD 75.39 billion in 2020. The projection for 2021 is now estimated to be down by 2% as compared to pre-COVID-19 estimation, data from Markets and Markets, a private research firm shows. 

However, with the impact of COVID-19, the car-sharing market is estimated to lose its share by 50–60% during 2020. Furthermore, by 2021, it will gain its market by 70–80% because of new strategies cab-hailing companies are putting in place to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Bolt Business Delivery

Other than these measures operators like Bolt are also venturing into the delivery business. In May this year, the company launched a new delivery service dubbed Bolt Business Delivery. The service works by connecting businesses with couriers on the Bolt platform and allows vendors to place orders online to deliver products to their customers. 

“We launched Bolt Business Delivery to leverage our experience in operations and logistics and make use of our technology and the large network of drivers we have across Kenya during a time when a lot of people are forced to stay at home,” Ola said during the launch. 

He also notes that since launching the delivery service, they have reported massive usage. 

‘’People are going out less now but the positive side is that they are ordering more since most of them are now working from home,’’ he said.

The platform features a web interface where vendors can upload deliveries in batches via CSV or can enter them manually using a simple form. Orders can be set to be picked up immediately or scheduled to be collected within 48 hours. Uber also offers a similar service in the country. In fact, the company recently reported that it had more than doubled their orders from the company’s food-delivery service in the second quarter as its ride-hailing segment remained battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

‘’With our experience and technology we are able to bring this solution to businesses for them to get deliveries done from their warehouses to their consumers’’ Ola says.

‘’I think we got more innovative during this period. Not because we’re not an innovative company but being innovative during this period means we try to study and understand what consumer behaviour looks like and create solutions that align with them,’’ added Ola.

Safeguarding drivers and passengers against COVID-19

On what Bolt is doing to protect drivers and passengers from contracting the virus. Ola said the company launched Bolt Protect,  a new ride-type in its platform that protects passengers and drivers against the spread of this virus.

Vehicles under this new category are be fitted with a protective plastic film of nylon installed between the passenger and driver seats. This acts as a precautionary barrier that limits the airflows between the driver and passengers thus reducing the possibility of the virus spreading through droplets expelled by sneezes or coughs from an infected person. You have probably seen this if you have used Bolt recently.

Vehicles under this new category will be fitted with protective plastic film of nylon installed between the passenger and driver seats

‘’For the drivers, Bolt Protect allows us, as a responsible company to keep our drivers safe and continue to be able to earn a living while working safely and in a conducive environment,’’ Ola says.

For riders, Ola says they have also given them an option to move around especially for essential services providers during this entire period.

‘’The safety and wellbeing of our passengers and drivers are always our highest priority. The protective setup of the new Bolt ride-type helps to reduce the risk of the virus spreading through coughs and sneezes,‘’ he says. ‘’With these options, riders are still able to order rides and feel safe, drivers are still able to earn money for themselves even during the pandemic.’’

The new ride-type also puts in place additional measures including proper ventilation of the cars throughout the trips as well as regular cleaning of the door handles and the backseat area after every completed trip. Bolf first did free installation to a number of drivers but Ola says they went further to provide all drivers with a step-by-step guide on how they can build the protective sheet, instruct them on proper ventilation and cleaning of the car.

During our interview, Ola said one of their growth strategies in Kenya and across Africa is to ensure they stay abreast of what’s going within the communities they serve.

‘’… and whenever we see an opportunity for us to get involved in something that benefits the community, we will surely be at hand to get involved,’’ concludes Ola.

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Nixon Kanali

Tech journalist based in Nairobi. I track and report on tech and African startups. Founder and Editor of TechTrends Media. Nixon is also the East African tech editor for Africa Business Communities. Send tips to nkanali@techtrendske.co.ke.

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