Cape Town-based mobility firm, GoMetro, has assembled a group of companies and research agencies to test electric minibus taxis in the Western Cape town of Stellenbosch.
The news comes as surging fuel prices and emissions targets are forcing many of the world’s governments to move away from fossil fuels and internal combustion engines (ICEs) in an effort to accommodate more eco-friendly alternatives.
GoMetro has compiled data on South African taxi operations for the last half-decade and is joined by ACDC Dynamics, HSW, MiX Telematics and several departments within Stellenbosch University.
While the collective’s primary aim is to assess the nation’s electric vehicle (EV) readiness, it also hopes to popularise electrification through a national roadshow this year.
Interest in the EV revolution among the nation’s taxi operators is growing as both owners and passengers are feeling the squeeze on their wallets, said GoMetro CEO, Justin Coetzee.
Petrol prices have increased by as much as 20% in 2022, and an eye-watering 40% year-on-year, according to a Business Tech report.
Unfortunately for commuters, an unflattering rand-dollar exchange rate, coupled with crude oil selling at a record $120 per barrel, have experts worried the problem won’t cease anytime soon.
GoMetro will test a number of vehicles during the course of the year to ascertain which models are best suited to the sector’s needs.
The team says it will need to work closely with local automotive authorities and encourage policymakers to seriously consider wider EV adoption and reducing duties on battery electric-powered vehicles, which currently sit at 25%.
The minibus taxi is synonymous with public transport in South Africa. Over 200 000 taxis were operational, employing hundreds of thousands of citizens, adding R90 billion to the country’s gross domestic product every year, estimated a 2017 report by the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO).
The most iconic and popular taxi model in South Africa is the Toyota HiAce Ses’fikile. The 16-seater with sliding doors, assembled in Durban, is unmistakable on the country’s road network.
An almost comparable replacement lies in the Chinese-developed, Joylong minibus. Like the HiAce, it sports plenty of space – enough to fit 14 adults. It also includes an adjustable wheelchair ramp at the cost of some seating space, according to EV publication, CleanTechnica.
Thinus Booysen, the research chair for Internet of Things (IoT) at Stellenbosch University and GoMetro task force leader, is acutely aware of the magnitude of his team’s task.
Unlike in the US and Europe, EV minibuses would represent a much larger proportion of public transport. He said the collaborative project was crucial in assessing the country’s ability to effectively transition into a less petrol-dependent public transport sector.