The Gauteng Traffic Police have impounded roughly 70 Bajaj Qute vehicles in Johannesburg, which were likely used to operate Bolt’s recently-launched Lite service, Newzroom Afrika reports.
Bolt drivers first started offering rides in Qutes on the Lite service in Randburg, Parktown, Melville, Linden, Braamfontein, and Rosebank a few weeks ago.
The cheaper option has an effective cost of R10 per kilometre, which MyBroadband found was about 18-26% cheaper than the e-hailing service’s other options on one route.
However, according to Gauteng Traffic Police spokesperson Sello Maremane, none of the drivers operating people carrying services in Qute vehicles in Johannesburg that were approached by officers were able to produce taxi operating licences.
“From Friday last week until Tuesday, 70 of these vehicles were impounded,” Maremane stated.
“Not a single vehicle that we have impounded has actually tried to apply for operating licences. This has the potential to endanger the lives of other road users and spark taxi violence.”
Although the vehicles themselves were legally registered, Maremane said they required operating licences to transport members of the public.
“Generally, we found them to be roadworthy; the only challenging problem is the fact that they are not in possession of operating licences,” Maremane said.
As it stands, Uber and Bolt drivers are required to have an operating licence that falls under a sub-category of metered taxi services, because there is currently no provision in law for e-hailing services.
Several of the drivers simply abandoned their vehicles next to the road after traffic enforcement officials raised the issue.
Maremane said that some of them told the traffic officers the quadricycles were provided to them through a certain company, but they could not reveal its name.
However, the impounding of such a large number of Qutes comes just weeks after Bolt first started offering the Lite service — which only uses this model.
Bolt regional manager for East and Southern Africa, Takura Malaba, previously told MyBroadband that the category provides more options for passengers in price-sensitive times. It also enables drivers to meet the demand for shorter-distance trips.
However, Malaba stressed that the R10 price-per-kilometre was not a threat to other modes of transport — like minibus taxis, buses, or trains.
“Our pricing per kilometre is more than double the price [of those services],” Malaba said.
The petite Qute features a 216cc (0.21-litre) single-cylinder engine that produces just 9.7kW of power and 18.9Nm torque. This gives it a top speed of 70km/h.
The vehicle is classified as a quadricycle or “microcar” due to its low weight, engine power, and speed limits.
It is unclear if the driver of a vehicle that is not considered a true car also requires a taxi operating licence under South African law.
Malaba said although Bajaj vehicles were compact, they were licensed to drive on all South African roads, including highways.
“The areas where these vehicles currently operate do not allow for high speeds, and these vehicles are ideal for shorter distances that enable passengers to achieve their first mile and last mile objectives,” Malaba stated.
With a price tag of just R85,000 or a weekly rent-to-buy cost of R650, the Qute offers an opportunity for people to work in the e-hailing services industry if they cannot afford a conventional approved hatchback or sedan.
What’s very curious about the impounding is that the Lite rollout was done in collaboration with the Gauteng Government’s Economic Development Department.
MyBroadband asked Bolt for feedback on the impounding of the Qutes, but did not immediately receive feedback to our queries.
NewzRoom Afrika interview with Gauteng Traffic Police spokesperson