Uber, Bolt rival tests eco-friendly vehicle fleet

Read time 3min 50sec
The Indian-manufactured Bajaj Qute vehicles are available in both compressed natural gas and petrol options.
The Indian-manufactured Bajaj Qute vehicles are available in both compressed natural gas and petrol options.

Gauteng-based Emergency Taxi bills itself as the first local ride-hailing service to introduce a fleet of gas-powered, eco-friendly vehicles.

Launched over a year ago, Emergency Taxi, owned by 30-year-old Zimbabwean-born IT entrepreneur Prince Pirikisi, is taking on Uber and Bolt in SA by partnering with the national Metered Taxi Association to disrupt the traditional metered taxi industry.

The ride-hailing service recently partnered with local transport services company Trans-Serv SA to introduce a fleet of 16 Indian-manufactured Bajaj Qute vehicles to the local market.

The tiny cars are rear-engine, four-passenger, four-wheeler quadricycle vehicles, with a 0.2-litre engine capacity that runs at a maximum speed of 70km per hour.

They are available in compressed natural gas (CNG) and petrol options, and can be used for personal as well as commercial use.

Branded by Pirikisi as ETQute, the new cars are not only eco-friendly, but also fuel-efficient, and economically competitive for first and last mile transportation.

They require just 2.8 litres to cover 100km, at R9.99 per litre of gas as opposed to R15.61 for a litre of petrol.

There are currently over 27 million  natural gas vehicles across the globe, with around 32 000 natural gas filling stations.

Pirikisi told ITWeb his company is running a test phase on some of the gas-powered Qute fleet, which will be rolled out for commercial use in the next few months.

“Emergency Taxi has done well since our launch just over a year ago. We now have over 2 000 downloads on our app, over 500 active users and 1 821 registered drivers,” explains Pirikisi.

“The introduction of the Bajaj Qute vehicles was a natural progression of our business strategy as we are constantly looking for opportunities to offer more affordable services to our customers. The new fleet comes with low maintenance costs, enabling us to offer a base fare of R10 as compared to the average base fare of R25 charged by ride-hailing services in SA.”

The ETQute fleet runs across Gauteng, with six of the vehicles focusing on inner city Johannesburg where they are predominantly used by students in Braamfontein, Melville and Auckland Park. The other 10 vehicles are spread across the northern and southern parts of Johannesburg.

The company still offers other vehicle sizes, including sedan vehicles and vans, and it will soon offer a parcel delivery option. Six of the vehicles are gas-run. Once the testing phase is complete, emergency taxi will convert more of the ETQute vehicles into gas-powered engines, with the possibility of increasing its fleet.

“The test phase of the gas-enabled engines has been going well so far. We test the gas-powered vehicles for a couple of hours per day. While they’re not completely carbon-free because they’re not electric vehicles, they are still environmentally friendlier than using petrol or diesel-run engines. The amount of carbon is significantly lower than a combustion engine.”

Emergency taxi uses two filling stations to fill up with gas: NGV Gas based in Langlaagte and Novo NV based in Wynberg.

When asked about the dangers of using CNG in vehicles, Pirikisi explains gas is no more dangerous than petrol or fuel.

“What causes any gas-powered equipment to become dangerous is the leakage. We take precautionary measures to ensure the cylinders are tightly sealed to avoid any leakage. This is why a test phase is extremely important. Gas must also be kept away from extreme heat. Having said that, a car that runs on petrol is not necessarily safer, because fuel has its risks too.”

Emergency Taxi, which has a call centre run by six employees, had halted its nation-wide expansion plans to focus on extending to all corners of Gauteng and improving its infrastructure.

“While we have long-term expansion plans, we want to first provide a fully-fledged service to Gauteng consumers. We have recently introduced a pre-booking feature, allowing passengers to book transport months in advance.

“We are also working on adding a courier and bus service, which all require strong financial backing. We are currently self-funded and once all these services are off the ground, then we will consider taking them to other provinces.”

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