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Wednesday / 17 April 2024
HomeFeaturesElectric taxis for South Africa – This is the plan

Electric taxis for South Africa – This is the plan

South Africa’s enormous fleet of diesel-powered minibus taxis could soon be replaced by battery-electric models, according to mobility platform GoMetro.

It is estimated that switching to electric vehicles (EVs) could save minibus owners up to 70% on maintenance and running costs while also providing a cleaner environment, effectively creating a win-win scenario for all road users.

GoMetro recently held a presentation at the South African Transport Conference, where it detailed the research it had conducted regarding the viability of electric minibuses in the country, and what needs to happen to make it a reality.

Huge potential

South Africa’s minibus taxi service is comprised of roughly 250,000 vehicles, which proportionally represents a far greater number than in places like Europe or the United States.

It is a massive industry that is estimated to employ around 650,000 people while generating R90 billion in revenue every year.

This gigantic fleet consumes approximately two billion tonnes of diesel per annum, which releases 34 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, said GoMetro CEO Justin Coetzee, Engineering News reports.

The company has been working alongside Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies to advance the electrification of the local transport sector, together identifying two main challenges to domestic EV adoption.

The first issue is a lack of charging infrastructure, while the second is the high purchase cost of the vehicles themselves, which is exacerbated by the exorbitant >40% import duty on EVs and EV components in South Africa.

Consequently, GoMetro has engaged with the national government with the hope of reducing import tariffs while also encouraging EV adoption through incentives or subsidies.

There are currently no electric minibuses in South Africa, and an imported battery-electric model would cost roughly that of a locally-available diesel one, said Coetzee.

Additionally, there is currently no after-sales support for EV buses, as an ecosystem of suppliers, and warranty and insurance providers has not yet been established.

To address these concerns, GoMetro created a new company called Flex with the intention of bringing EV taxis to the country while also establishing an environment to support it.

Flex ran a trial with a 15-seater electric minibus imported from Higer, China’s third-largest bus manufacturer, and determined that there was no operational condition outside the scope of what an EV can cater for, based on data from 150 different taxi drivers.

Coetzee said that Higer had agreed to establish a factory in South Africa to produce its minibuses locally, should it prove viable to do so.

The Chinese taxis have an electric range of 200km and can be charged to 80% in as little as 50 minutes when using a fast-charger outlet, or eight hours with a conventional plug.

To address the infrastructure issue, GoMetro has been collaborating with Stellenbosh University on an experiment to modify an existing taxi rank called Bergzicht with charging ports.

It estimates that a typical taxi rank will require 800 square metres of space for a total of 16 charging bays, as well as fencing, security, and boom gates for protecting the valuable infrastructure.

Coetzee explained that the minibuses should operate on a “park and move” basis, charging for one hour at a time, rather than lingering at the rank, which could theoretically allow up to 300 vehicles to be serviced at a rank in a single day.

However, he also suggested that the ranks could include a separate parking space for overnight charging.

The CEO believes that South Africans will want to make the switch to EVs because of the vast potential savings to be had.

Operators can save up to R13,000 per month on fuel and maintenance, which could translate to R2.4 million saved over the course of a vehicle’s 15-year lifespan, he said.

This would also reduce carbon emissions by nearly 14 tonnes per vehicle per year, which would greatly improve the air quality and health of the surrounding community.

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