Bolt drivers bemoan vehicle impoundments

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 01 Sept 2023
The Bajaj Qute vehicles are manufactured in India.
The Bajaj Qute vehicles are manufactured in India.

Drivers of the Bajaj Qute vehicles operating on the Bolt ride-hailing platform are crying foul over the loss of income, after their vehicles were impounded by the Gauteng traffic police.

The drivers tell ITWeb that some have lost a week’s worth of earnings and are unable to pay the hefty traffic fines, after the traffic police started confiscating the vehicles operating in Johannesburg on 22 August.

According to law enforcement, the vehicles were impounded because the drivers did not have valid operating licences.

To date, 38 Bajaj Qutes operating on Bolt have been impounded, with each driver issued with a fine of R5 000 to release their vehicle. This amounts to a total of R190 000 required for all vehicles to be released, says the traffic department.

Speaking to ITWeb, Melithemba Mnguni, secretary of the e-Hailing Partners Council, confirms the impounded vehicles do not have valid operating licences, and in some cases, they do not meet the safety standards.

The impoundment, he says, has left the drivers penniless and worried about their future.

“The drivers’ earnings are affected, as the business model is based on a ‘no work, no pay’ situation. The earnings and safety of drivers have been our main concern from the inception of the e-hailing industry in South Africa,” notes Mnguni.

“The Bajaj deal was done without proper consultation and there are also issues of the safety of the vehicles, as far as compliance is concerned. As a result, the consequences are heavily affecting the drivers who have entered into the deal to drive these Bajaj vehicles.”

The Indian-manufactured Bajaj Qute vehicles are rear-engine, two-passenger, four-wheeler quadricycle vehicles, with a 0.2-litre engine capacity. They run at a maximum speed of 70km per hour.

They are offered under Bolt Lite, which is the e-hailing company’s cheapest option. The vehicles on the platform are owned by MyNextCar, which has signed a partnership deal with Bolt. As part of the deal, the drivers are offered the vehicles on a rent-to-own contract.

A driver whose Bajaj Qute vehicle was impounded last week tells ITWeb that he is still awaiting feedback to find out which of the companies will be paying the fine.

“I am not in a financial position to pay for any fine, nor do I have any money for anything else at the moment. I heard there is a possibility that I might be given another substitute vehicle in the meantime, but I’m still waiting to hear if I will get one,” says the driver, who did not want to be named.

In a telephone interview with ITWeb, Gauteng traffic police spokesperson Sello Maremane confirmed 38 of Bolt’s Bajaj Qutes have been impounded, to date.

“We still have those vehicles in our pound and we have not released them. The reason they were impounded is that they were caught without operating licences. In terms of section 30 of the National Land Transport Act, to undertake any type of public transport service, companies must apply to the relevant authorities for a relevant permit.

“If the driver admits guilt, they have to pay a total fine of R5 000 (impoundment fee of R3 500 and release fee of R1 500) each. If they do not agree with the fine, they have an option to go to court.”

According to Maremane, the fine is issued to the driver of the vehicle and not the company.

The minimum requirements for a company to provide transport services in SA, he adds, are a professional driver’s licence for the driver of the vehicle, and an operator card (licence disc) and operating licence for the vehicle.

“The type of licence issued will determine which areas and roads a vehicle is legible to operate on, and at the moment these vehicles don’t have that,” adds Maremane.

A Bolt spokesperson says the company is engaging with relevant stakeholders to find an amicable resolution that will safeguard the earning potential of drivers, and also provide an essential option for passengers to choose, as part of their broader mobility needs.

This action was unexpected for Bolt, and drivers have not been presented with an official reason for the impoundment, says the spokesperson.

“Bolt is deeply disheartened at how the impounding of these vehicles has affected the livelihoods of the many drivers who earn an income and provide for their families with this income. The impact extends beyond drivers but also to our passenger community, that rely on this type of service for shorter trips.

“At the time of this action, drivers raised their concerns with traffic authorities regarding the impoundment process, which resulted in the dispossession of access to the vehicle and, thereby, the ability for drivers to earn an income. Those drivers were also not provided with any impoundment forms or documentation, and when they sought to seek answers and explanations, they were simply ignored,” says the spokesperson.

Bolt declined to comment on who is obligated to pay the fines, noting the Bajaj vehicles are licensed to operate on all South African roads.

“Bajaj vehicles are designated as compact quadricycles, and are aimed at intra-city transportation, or ‘last mile transportation’. The Bajaj is eligible to run on all South African roads, and is National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) approved, which was approved in 2017.

“The Bajaj Qutes have been sold in SA since 2017. There has been no reason since 2017 that has required the NRCS to direct that these vehicles should not operate on South African roads,” says the spokesperson.