As the fuel price hits historic highs, commuters are starting to feel the pinch in increasing transport fares. The typical South African commuter already spends up to 40% of their income on transport and the minibus taxi sector is still struggling from the impact of the last two years on their operations. However, relief could be possible from an unlikely source – electric minibus taxis. Privately-owned minibus taxis are ubiquitous in sub-Saharan Africa and carry more than 70% of daily commuters.
A project team of companies and research institutions today announced a research partnership to investigate and advance the feasibility of an electric minibus taxi in South African conditions by testing production vehicles in South Africa in 2023.
For the last five years GoMetro, a global mobility management technology company with its head office in Cape Town, has collected data on taxi operations across South Africa. In order to advance e-mobility development locally, GoMetro has convened a project team of innovative companies and researchers to launch a demonstrator project to test the first minibus in South African conditions by January 2023.
The project team, consisting of GoMetro, MiX Telematics, HSW, ACDC Dynamics, and various 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.
A number of viable electric minibus taxi models from various markets have been identified, the first of which will be on South African shores by the end of the year. The acceptance and practicality of the model will be extensively tested with taxi owners and drivers, in order to identify the use-cases and conditions where an electric taxi would make 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 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.
The aim of testing different models over the coming months, is to establish which vehicle will be best suited to the South African public transport industry, and what spectrum of operations are conducive to the range capabilities of the vehicles. In addition to testing the vehicle itself, the project team wants to engage with the automotive sector and policy makers to encourage proactive discussions with the government around the reduction of duties and the promotion of the adoption of electric vehicles in 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.
Professor Thinus Booysen, Research Chair in the Internet of Things at Stellenbosch University, will lead the team of testing experts. “The informal taxi sector must transform to EVs, but little is known about their energy requirements. This unknown is overshadowed by our energy scarcity and coal dependence on the electricity supply side. This collaborative project will ensure we are prepared for and carefully manage this exciting transition,” says Booysen. The electric minibus taxi will be showcased at the Stellenbosch University campus.