Ride-hailing startup Bolt will now suspend the accounts of drivers affected by the coronavirus, after previously choosing to leave preventative measures at the discretion of contractors using its platform.

The U-turn means Bolt is now taking the same approach as its larger rivals Uber and Lyft, who are also temporarily suspending drivers from using the app if they test positive for COVID-19.

“If we have good reason to suspect that the driver/passenger represents a health risk to others, we will take the precautionary step of suspending their access to the platform for a period of time,” a Bolt spokesperson told Verdict in an updated statement.

Previously the startup said it could not restrict its drivers as they “are independent service providers using our platform”.

Bolt, an Estonian firm launched in 2013 and formerly known as Taxify, has more than one million drivers.

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The taxi service is used by 30 million people across 35 countries, primarily in Europe and Africa.

Uber has four million drivers globally, while Lyft has 1.4 million.

Bolt drivers will not get coronavirus sick pay

Bolt said it has “set up processes within the team for the possible situations of an employee or a driver being exposed to the virus”. It added it is “ready to cooperate with local health authorities and follow their requests and guidelines”.

The startup is also reminding its drivers of the World Health Organisation’s advice and making hand sanitiser available to drivers that request it.

“For example, in London Bolt drivers can go to our Bolt Driver Hub in Chiswick if they’d like one bottle of hand sanitiser,” the spokesperson said.

However, drivers that take time off because of the coronavirus will not be given sick pay because its drivers are not full-time staff.

Bolt said:

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“We understand the situation that some drivers may face due to not being able to drive for a certain time. However, Bolt drivers are independent service providers using our platform. Therefore, we cannot offer provisions for drivers who have to take time off sick.”

The move is also a deviation from Uber and Lyft’s approach. Both have said they will offer financial assistance to those that test positive for COVID-19, despite not normally offering sick pay.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has so far affected more than 135,000 people globally, has exposed the fragile financial position faced by those working in the gig economy for firms such as Uber, Lyft, Bolt and Deliveroo.

Technology firms have made billions hiring workers on temporary contracts, which does not offer the same holiday and sick pay as full-time workers.

Update: This article has been updated to include Bolt’s amended statement.


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