Estonian ride-hailing app Bolt launches in Sri Lanka

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Yes, that’s right. It’s another ride-hailing app, this time in the form of the European brand, Bolt. The company marked its entry into Sri Lanka through a pilot launch in Colombo yesterday. Incidentally, this is also the first time the European ride-hailing company has tested the waters in the South Asian region.

What is Bolt?

Estonian ride-hailing app Bolt launches in Sri Lanka 1
Markus Vilig and Martin Vilig – The Founders of Bolt

Having raised over $400 million from investors by now, Bolt is an Estonian ride-hailing service founded by brothers Markus and Martin Villig in 2013. Five years later, the company expanded its services further by offering e-scooter rentals. Its recent €100 million investment strategy indicates that ride-hailing company is doubling down on the scooter segment, at least in the European region.   

But the company’s footprint extends well beyond Europe, reaching 100 cities across the world. This includes Africa, the Americas, and Asian countries like Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Thailand. With Colombo, Sri Lanka is the latest addition to the list.

What does it mean for Sri Lanka?

Bolt entering the Sri Lankan market indicates that compeition within the ride-hailing space may intensify. The Estonian company has already promised 20% lower fares than the competition while charging no commission from the drivers, for at least six months. At present, the company claims to have a fleet of 2,000 drivers for its Colombo operations.

As for users, particularly in Colombo, your choice of ride-hailing apps has expanded. The added benefit here is that rides you book on Bolt will likely be cheaper. That might change in the future. But for now, the new ride-hailing app is going to intrigue more than a few.

First impressions

Bolt
The options Bolt has to offer currently at launch

The app itself is straightforward. If you’re used to booking taxis on your smartphone then this works like the others. One noticeable feature on the Bolt app is Work Profiles. Here you can keep track of all your work-related travels with your email receipts sent to a designated company email.

I gave the app a try on launch day and I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of available drivers already. Given the COVID-19 situation, drivers had already undergone registration online. So, many were already on the road for launch day.

The service wasn’t too bad either. Neither of the drivers of the two rides I took asked about drop or pickup locations. I just got in and got off. Currently, you have three options to choose from, Economy, Bolt (car), Tuk and Motorbike (no scooters). The cheapest option is the motorbike with the highest being for Bolt option. Economy option is somewhere between the tuk and Bolt. It’s basically a car at the price of a tuk, but cheaper.

While the rates are competitive, rides can only facilitate cash payments right now. But the company is said to be adding more payment options in the coming months.

Cautious future for Bolt

Bolt
While Bolt is currently in the honeymoon period, there are some big questions it needs to answer given the industry landscape (Image credits: EN Delfi)

It’s still early days for Bolt. Right now, it’s the honeymoon period. The riders get a cheaper rate and the drivers don’t have to pay commission to Bolt, at least for the first six months. But the company is in for a cautious future, especially given the industry landscape.

For instance, payment problems. One of the biggest issues with credit/debit card payments is that drivers usually hate these, and justifiably. With card payments, drivers are either reimbursed in a few days or your card earnings are already deducted from your pending payments. Either way, it leaves drivers with less cash on their hands in a given day. Hence the displeasure with card payments. Of course, this also means that users would need to constantly fuss with the drivers about accepting card payments. It will be interesting to see how Bolt handles this situation once card payments do become available.

Then there’s also the matter of a physical support service deployed in the country. The last thing anyone needs is to get all local queries redirected to a team in another country. We’ve already seen what that’s like with Uber. Hopefully, as Bolt’s presence grows in the coming months, the situation will be different and the company will have a local support team and hotline that’s reachable during emergencies like PickMe does.

All in all, the added competition with Bolt entering Sri Lanka is a healthy sign for the industry. As to how well Bolt is going to fare, only time will tell.

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