The fuel price has reached historic highs and commuters are beginning to feel the pinch from rising transport fares. South African commuters spend up to 40% on transport, and the minibus taxi industry is still reeling from the effects of the past two years. However, relief could be possible from an unlikely source – electric minibus taxis. The minibus taxis, which are private-owned and transport more than 70% daily commuters, are common in sub-Saharan Africa.
Today, a project team made up of research institutions and companies announced a partnership to study and advance the feasibility and use of electric minibus taxis in South Africa. The partners will test production vehicles in South Africa by 2023.
GoMetro is a global mobility management company that has its headquarters in Cape Town. It has been gathering data about taxi operations throughout South Africa for the past five years. GoMetro assembled a team of researchers and innovative companies to create a demonstrator project that would test the first minibus under South African conditions.
The project team, made up of GoMetro, MiX Telematics, HSW, ACDC Dynamics, and other entities within Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Engineering, will conduct rigorous and extensive testing in and around the town of Stellenbosch, as well as putting the electrification of the minibus taxi sector firmly on the national agenda by means of an educational roadshow in all nine provinces in the course of 2023.
There are a number of viable minibus electric taxi models available from different markets. The first one will arrive on South African shores before the end of this year. Taxi drivers and taxi owners will extensively test the model’s acceptance and practicality. This will help identify the situations and use cases where an electric taxi makes the most sense.
“Taxi drivers and owners are very interested and intrigued by the idea of an electric minibus taxi, and are constantly asking us when the first electric minibus taxi will arrive on our shores”, says Justin Coetzee, GoMetro CEO. “We have built valuable relationships with a large number of taxi associations, and the ever-increasing fuel price is a massive concern among owners, drivers and riders alike, as there does not seem to be any relief in sight. The industry has long acknowledged that business as usual will not suffice – and that change is required, especially after the effects of COVID-19”.
It is the intention of testing several models in the coming months to determine which vehicle is best suited for South African public transport and what operating conditions are most favorable to the vehicles’ capabilities. Apart from testing the vehicle, the project team also wants to engage the auto sector and policymakers to encourage proactive conversations with the government regarding the reduction of duties as well as the promotion of electric vehicles within the transport sector.
“Since MiX Telematics is at the forefront of innovation and leveraging new technologies to improve fleet operations and efficiency, we are very excited to be part of this pioneering initiative. We have seen the adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles increasing exponentially in Europe, and so look forward to learning how we can support these solutions in the South African context,” says Catherine Lewis, Executive VP of Technology at MiX Telematics.
The team of experts will be led by Professor Thinus Booysen (Research Chair in the Internet of Things, Stellenbosch University). “The informal taxi sector must transform to EVs, but little is known about their energy requirements. This unknown is overshadowed in part by energy scarcity and dependence on coal for electricity supply. This collaborative project will ensure we are prepared for and carefully manage this exciting transition,” says Booysen. The Stellenbosch University campus will feature the electric minibus taxi.
According to Dr Bernard Bekker, Associate Director of Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES), the future electrification of the transport section in South Africa raises significant technical and regulatory challenges related to integrating electric transport into our existing grid infrastructure. These problems are not unique to South Africa. Minibus taxis may make up a greater percentage of the future electrical transport fleet than Europe or the USA. “The availability of a real-life electric minibus taxi to inform our research activities will provide very valuable inputs into addressing these challenges.”
“The minibus taxi is ubiquitous in the South African landscape moving millions of people over the years, contributing to getting South Africa to work – unfortunately in an environmentally unsustainable manner. ACDC Dynamics is proud to be part of the change that will be brought to this industry as it adopts electric/ battery powered taxi’s through our capabilities to supply battery charging networks across the country,” says Mario Maio, Founder and Managing Director of ACDC Dynamics.
“HSW is passionate about bringing manufacturing local. The Western Cape has the technical resources and skills to support such an initiative. There are already existing Electronic Manufacturers who have world class capabilities in the Manufacturing of electronic products such as Barracuda Holdings who is one of HSW’s key customers as evidence that this type of hi-tech manufacturing technology is already available locally,” says Ryan Webb, Managing Member HSW.
Electric vehicles (EVs), are being touted as a solution to decarbonising the transportation sector globally. The development of low-carbon transport in cities is part of the global agenda to delay climate change and relates to many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. EV sales have increased dramatically in the Global North. Many global vehicle manufacturers plan not to produce combustion engines until 2030. But, in sub Saharan Africa (SSA), the transition from EVs is slow. This research project is designed to speed up the transition to cleaner and more sustainable mobility.