On Monday 13, March 2023, e-hailing drivers registered to the Bolt platform received messages from the company. The message, which was nicely worded, offered the drivers an opportunity to make extra income in exchange for branding their vehicles with Bolt’s logo.
The message reads in part:
We are looking for drivers who are interested in advertising our brand on their vehicles. In exchange, you will receive weekly compensation for displaying our logo while you go about your normal driving routine.
While this appears as a very noble and well-intended gesture by the ride-hailing company (which is by far the most popular in Nigeria), the drivers, on the other hand, aren’t taking too well to the initiative.
Indeed, operating branded vehicles is not new in the ride-hailing space. Even in Lagos, at least one of the ride-hailing companies, Lagos Ride, operates exclusively with branded vehicles.
What the drivers think
According to the president of the NLC-backed and government-approved Amalgamated Union of App-based Transport Workers Union (AUATWN), Comrade Ibrahim Ayoade, the initiative might seem noble, but could result in pain for the drivers, for a number of reasons.
First, he suggests that the drivers would be susceptible to attacks around the country. Given the insecurity around the country, driving branded vehicles would make drivers easy targets during the now frequent civil unrest erupting around the country.
He also expressed fears that state actors like the police and non-state actors (i.e thugs that are used as transport levy collectors) in major hubs across Lagos would automatically target these drivers for extortion, as the branding would easily give them away as transport workers, not private vehicles.
“All the law enforcement will be on our necks for no reason. Branding cars may not be safe at the moment because of insecurity. Many app drivers will be in serious danger as they will always be targeted in case of any problems around the town,”– Comrade Ibrahim Ayoade, President of the NLC-backed and government-approved Amalgamated Union of App-based Transport Workers Union (AUATWN)
Also, Ibrahim also highlighted the possibility of drivers contravening outdoor branding laws by allowing Bolt’s branding on their vehicles. He noted that what Bolt is doing is clear advertisement and there are laws guiding outdoor advertisements and branding in many states. He believes that Bolt has most likely considered how they could innoculate the drivers from infringements.
Conversations about the legality of vehicle branding in Nigeria have been well-covered by experts. For example, Onyekachi Umah noted in his piece published under the free legal awareness project of Sabi Law Foundation, that maintaining stickers, logos and adverts on a vehicle without a permit is an offence in Nigeria.
“To place stickers, logos, paintings and Adverts on vehicles, one needs a Permit from the Local Government Authority in his area. Such a permit is valid for a year. Failure to obtain a permit is an offence punishable with not more than 6 months imprisonment.”– Excerpts from Stickers, Logos and Adverts on a Vehicle without a Permit by Onyekachi Umah, Esq
Similarly, the Lagos State Signage and Advertising launched its e-permit for branded vehicles in December 2022. The law requires all branded vehicles within the state to acquire a permit and the e-sticker that comes with it.
Lastly, the drivers worry that embracing the initiative would lead to reduced patronage and increased cases of cancelled rides. Most drivers operate across different platforms and it would be strange for a rider to book a ride on Uber only to be greeted by a Bolt-branded vehicle.
One of the biggest values the rider gets from choosing Bolt ahead of branded yellow taxis is the sense of “executive privacy” that the plain vehicles give. They argued that branding would take away this value proposition.
Finally, the drivers’ union chief recommended that instead of the obvious branding of cars, Bolt should compensate app drivers for using small labels in front just like Uber does in the USA. He said this would help app drivers make more income and at the same time protect the company’s interest.
This writer reached out to Bolt to confirm the story and the popular e-hailing company confirmed that it was indeed embarking on a car branding scheme. It, however, emphasized that it isn’t a mandatory offer. According to Bolt, only drivers who are interested would be onboarded onto the scheme.
On the issue of safety and exposing drivers to dangers and taxation from both state and non-state actors like touts, the company doesn’t seem to be worried by that, insisting that nothing of the sort has happened to its branded vehicles around the country.
“We have branded cars across the country and we haven’t recorded any harassment cases from these drivers as we provide all required branding permits to drive within the state,”– the company said…
While the company is right to feel this way, we, however, saw drivers of Bike-hailing companies like Gokada and O-Ride suffer such attacks and taxation by touts at different points whenever their branded bikes rolled into their areas. The companies’ permits didn’t protect the bike men.
Addressing the issue of laws and permits guiding branding in Lagos, Bolt says it has factored in the Lagos state laws regarding branding and advertising and will handle and cover the cost of all the necessary regulatory branding documents for drivers who opt to have their vehicles branded.
On the matter of reduced patronage and cancelled rides, the company insists that isn’t a valid worry as they haven’t witnessed such in the cities where they operate with branded vehicles.
“Our drivers in other cities have not reported any instances of riders cancelling rides due to branded vehicles. Nonetheless, we will continuously evaluate and collaborate with both drivers and riders to ensure a seamless experience for both parties.”– the company said
While insisting that it is standard practice in the global ride-hailing industry to have vehicle branding, Bolt made it clear that drivers will always have the option to withdraw from the initiative by simply removing the sticker and notifying them of their decision.
It will be interesting to see how the scheme unfolds. Many drivers don’t own their own cars. Hence, adopting the model will depend on the willingness of the car owners, to a large extent.
However, a driver on the Bolt hire-purchase system, Sodiq, told this reporter that he would be happy to embrace the scheme:
“They are the same people that gave me a car on hire purchase, likewise I can help to move their business,” he said.
While the branding initiative by Bolt appears like a great way for drivers to earn more, one could only hope that there aren’t certain “terms and conditions” attached. Indeed some drivers fear that one of the conditions might be asking the drivers to work exclusively on the Bolt app.
The AUATWN president, Comrade Ayoade, already worries about the lack of openness surrounding the nature of compensation. According to him, if the benefits are truly the selling points, why is Bolt not making it public?
“Let them tell us full information about the program and about the compensation. How do they want to pay? What are the parameters surrounding it? because at the end of the day, they may have some incredible terms and conditions,” he says.
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