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‘It’s Shameful – A Life was Taken’: Anger from Family of Killed Driver as Safety Concerns over Ride-Hailing App Continue

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Josiah Mortimer reports on a family’s campaign for change at Bolt

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“If just one life is saved we’ve done our job,” Mara Fazecas says. She’s speaking to me two years after her fiancée Gabriel was killed while doing his job, driving for the ride-hailing firm Bolt in London.

The past two years, she says, have been beyond difficult for Gabriel Bringye’s family – but they have been made no easier by Bolt’s alleged reluctance to make major changes that could save lives.

Gabriel was stabbed to death after a group of teenagers made a so-called ‘trap booking’ via the app: they had stolen a phone with the intention to book a private hire cab and then steal the car. The resulting row saw Gabriel stabbed to death.

The app recorded Gabriel as stationary and unresponsive for more than six hours, without raising any form of alarm or welfare check. 

While two of the perpetrators were convicted of manslaughter, Mara and Gabriel’s sister Renata, as well as the IWGB (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain) union, want lasting changes at private hire firms to save lives. But they have hit a brick wall. 

Two days after Gabriel’s killing, Renata received a phone call from the company, asking if she needed any support. The most the family got, they say, were some flowers and a Bolt-branded card sent to the place near where Gabriel lost his life. 

Drivers began staging protests and strike action to demand protections from Bolt. “We went to Bolt’s office after Gabriel died,” Renata says. “Management wouldn’t come out.”

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The European rival to Uber says it has now introduced welfare checks on static vehicles, the ability for drivers to share live journey details with a third party, alongside ‘unmatching’ drivers and passengers who have rated each other poorly so they cannot be connected again. 

Other changes appear to have been rejected, including the introduction by Bolt and other apps of protections such as customer ID checks and sickness insurance for drivers – who do not have formal worker status or its accompanying protections – and their families.  

“They’ve done nothing in two years,” Renata says. “How hard is it to require a password to get into the app?”

Mara says a senior Bolt executive told her that requiring a password would put people off using the app. Other security-enhancing options – including subsidising CCTV for drivers’ cars or granting sick pay (something that rival Uber offers following a Supreme Court ruling) – have so far been stonewalled. 

Uber offers insurance to all drivers protecting them from the “financial cost of life-changing events”, such as injury and sickness – something Bolt does not appear to have moved on. 

A major block, the family says, is Bolt’s refusal to meet with the IWGB union, which represents the family as well as around 6,000 workers in the wider gig economy. 

Mara says her motivation is simple: “We don’t want any drivers or their families to go through what we have gone through… The union is with us, supporting the drivers. Bolt should work with them to find out the problems with driver safety.” 

Bolt recently released a survey claiming that 75% of its drivers feel safe. “That suggests 25% don’t feel safe – that’s thousands of drivers,” Mara says. “Every single life is important.” Bolt has around 65,000 drivers in the UK. 

Renata feels sidelined and patronised in her efforts to create lasting change. “They treat workers as just numbers,” she says. “It’s shameful… a life was taken. Instead of just giving words to the media, they should accept the help of the union. How long do they need to change?” 

Mara highlights an IWGB survey of Bolt drivers showing that the majority said they felt unsafe in their jobs. It is one reason that they will “continue with our campaign”.  

The family says it will refuse Bolt’s offer of a meeting, to discuss safety concerns, unless they allow the union to be present. Bolt has not said why it does not the IWGB union but a spokesperson for the firm says it “constantly engages with drivers, passengers, wider industry stakeholders and law enforcement” to improve safety. 

Gareth Taylor, Bolt’s regional manager for western Europe, said: “Bolt condemns violence of any form directed towards private hire drivers, who we believe have the right to earn a living without risk of harm, intimidation, coercion, or fear of death or injury.

“The death of Gabriel Bringye was a shocking and senseless tragedy and I have met with Gabriel’s family to convey my condolences and discuss how Bolt can do better in future. We discussed a number of areas relating to the campaign and agreed to meet in the Spring to update on these.”

He added that, as well as introducing welfare checks if drivers had been inactive for long periods of time, last month the firm launched a “major upgrade” to its ratings system whereby drivers can see the number of trips passengers have taken on Bolt, as well as their customer rating “so they can have greater confidence the passenger is a regular user of the service”.

“We continue to make significant increases in the size of our safety team, which places significant emphasis on permanently removing passengers with consistently poor feedback from drivers from using the platform,” Taylor added. 

A spokesperson for the IWGB union said: “We will continue to fight to get justice for Gabriel and safety for all drivers.”

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