Taxi drivers go Qute-tipping in South Africa

Taxi drivers and taxi industry patrol teams have been spotted tipping over and vandalising the Bajaj Qutes used for Bolt’s Lite service in Johannesburg.

Several X (formerly Twitter) users shared videos of incidents occurring across the City.

The 400kg Qute came from a partnership between Bajaj Auto, Renault, and Nissan and was first launched in India in 2012.

It is powered by a 216cc (0.21-litre) single-cylinder engine that produces just 9.7kW of power and 18.9Nm torque, giving the Qute a top speed of 70km/h.

Its weight, engine power, and speed limitations classify the Bajaj Qute as a quadricycle or microcar.

In mid-August 2023, ride-hailing service Bolt announced the launch of Bolt Lite — a short-distance service that exclusively uses the Bajaj Qute.

However, certain taxi operators and drivers are displeased with the competition posed by the new Bolt service, and with the Qute’s small stature, they have taken to tipping the microcars over.

In one clip, taxi drivers can be seen vandalising a Bolt Lite Bajaj Qute near what appears to be a residential estate. They smash the windows and can be seen bending the window frames on the driver’s side of the microcar.

Takura Malaba, regional manager for East and Southern Africa at Bolt, told MyBroadband they are aware of the trend, and the ride-hailing company is collecting more information before opening a case with the South African Police Service.

“Crime against ride-hailing drivers continues to be a national issue of great concern, and the safety of drivers who use the Bolt platform is of utmost importance to us,” said Malaba.

“We strongly urge law enforcement to take serious action against these criminals who have threatened a driver and damaged private property but have also prevented the driver from earning an income that provides for his family.”

Bolt Lite — short-distance rides at R10 per km

Since its launch, the Bolt Lite service has been operating in specific areas of Johannesburg, including Randburg, Parktown, Melville, Linden, Braamfontein, and Rosebank.

Bolt said it would continue to assess the performance of this category before expanding into other parts of Johannesburg.

Malaba said the effective cost of Bolt Lite to customers works out to R10 per kilometre.

The Qute offers space for up to three people in addition to the driver. However, the Bolt Lite service limits passengers to one person per trip to avoid higher fuel consumption.

Malaba described the uptake of Bolt Lite as “phenomenal”.

“We are optimistic that the broader roll-out of the Bolt Lite category will ensure passengers now have access to more affordable methods of transport for shorter trips (last mile) and that this will increase earning opportunities for drivers,” he said.

The service got off to a rocky start, with Gauteng Traffic Police impounding roughly 30 Bajaj Qute vehicles in Johannesburg towards the end of August 2023.

Sello Maremane, Gauteng Traffic Police spokesperson, said the Qutes were impounded as none of the drivers could produce taxi operating licences.

“From Friday last week [18 August] until Tuesday [2022 August], 17 of these vehicles were impounded,” said Maremane

“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.”

He added that most of the quadricycles were deemed roadworthy, but the drivers’ lack of operating licences means they cannot use them to transport passengers.

Several drivers abandoned their vehicles next to the road after traffic enforcement officials raised the issue.

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Taxi drivers go Qute-tipping in South Africa