December 4, 2019 / 3:24 PM / 7 days ago

Bolt expands South African operations to small towns

JOHANNESBURG, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Estonia based ride-hailing app Bolt plans to double its service in South Africa to include at least 30 more cities and suburbs, the firm said on Wednesday, as it steps up its challenge to Uber’s dominance.

The tech and transport company formerly known as Taxify has raised more than $200 million from investors since its launch in 2013.

Analysts expect Bolt to use its war-chest to expand operations in untapped markets, particularly in the developing world, as well as to eat into those controlled by its bigger rivals.

Bolt said in a statement South Africa would be “a big recipient of this investment” as it intensified its focus on the continent and Europe.

In South Africa Bolt and Uber have an estimated 25%/75% split of the ride hailing market. Uber this year said it had reached 1 million app users.

“Bolt’s focus on Europe and Africa sets us apart from our competitors, and the success of this strategy is clear, with South Africa now one of our top markets globally,” said Bolt chief executive and co-founder Markus Villig.

The ride service operates in seven countries across the African continent and originally launched in South Africa’s financial hub Johannesburg before branching out to smaller cities.

“This expansion means that ride-hailing services are now available in the Free State, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and North West for the first time,” Bolt said in the statement.

Uber operates in 9 cities across the country.

According to local newspaper the Mail&Guardian December 2016 figures from third-party source App Annie showed Uber had 620,000 weekly active users and Bolt 94,000.

Revenue in the ride-hailing segment in South Africa hit $314m in 2019 according to Statista, with annual growth between now and 2023 seen 18.4%, resulting in a market volume of $616m by 2023.

Bolt told Reuters it had 2 million rider sign-ups in South Africa in the past 12 months, and that it achieved a 75% growth in revenue and a 60% increase in drivers over the same period. ($1 = 0.9073 euros) (Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana and Kara van de Berg; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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