Demand has surged across South Africa for ride-hailing vehicles with additional Covid-19 physical protection measures installed between the front and rear seats of the vehicles.

The surge is due to healthcare and essential services workers and their employers choosing to use these specialist ride-hailing vehicles, rather than public transport, to get to and from work safely.

The Bolt Isolated Car service, currently the only ride-hailing service to offer this extra protection, launched in Johannesburg during March 2020, with an initial 500 vehicles.

“Vehicles have a protective barrier installed between the front and back seats, providing a physical shield between the driver and their passenger, limiting the airflow between the drivers and riders inside the cars,” explains Gareth Taylor, country manager for Bolt in South Africa.

In addition, it is mandatory for drivers and passengers to wear face masks, passengers must sanitise their hands on entering the vehicle, and drivers are required to ventilate and sanitise the car between every trip.

This category costs the same as a regular Bolt ride, despite the extra safety measures and limits on passenger numbers.

In order to meet escalating passenger demand for these vehicles, Bolt boosted the number vehicles registered on the platform that have these protection measures to 3,000, and expanded the service offering beyond Johannesburg to Cape Town and Durban.

“We anticipate that Bolt Isolated Cars are likely to be even more popular under Level 3 as Covid-19 lockdown conditions relax and more South Africans are able to return to work – many of them concerned about using public transport due to social distancing fears,” says Taylor.

Because of this expected demand, Bolt has announced plans to double the number of vehicles by subsidising the installation of the protection measures in a further 4,000 vehicles registered on the Bolt platform.

Taylor anticipates continued demand specifically from healthcare, laboratory and other essential services workers, but also from workers in sectors that can start work again under Level 3, and they or their employers do not want to or cannot use public transport.

Under Level 3 regulations, for example, employers of non-live-in domestic staff might want to provide private transport for their workers for their safety should they wish them to return to their duties, and Bolt Isolated Cars is a cost-effective and safe solution.

Taylor expects that employers who need their workers to get to work by means other than public transport will subsidise the ride-hailing fares, or they can set up post-paid accounts on the Bolt Business platform, where they can allocate budgets, record trips, and manage expense claims easily.

“Bolt has responded quickly throughout the lockdown period to create solutions that have helped essential services workers get to work safely, while also ensuring that drivers using the platform continue to earn an income,” Taylor says. “The company’s recent successful funding round will further support our plans to expand our services and our footprint, to further meet South Africans’ transport needs.”