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SA taxi industry uncertain over switch to electric powered cars

THE taxi industry in South Africa finds itself at a crossroads, particularly, as the country forges its journey towards a net zero carbon future. Photo: Leon Sadiki

The South African minibus taxi sector is struggling to envision a green industry writes Mokgadi Mogy Mashako

THE taxi industry in South Africa finds itself at a crossroads, particularly, as the country forges its journey towards a net zero carbon future.

While many drivers and operators see the potential benefits of switching to electric taxis, others are skeptical about the costs and practicalities of such a move.

One thing that is certain though, is that the driving forces behind the shift to electric vehicles are impossible to ignore.

SA is Africa’s number one carbon polluter on the continent. According to the country’s National Determined Contribution (NDC), South Africa stated its ambitious goal to limit its greenhouse gas emissions to 398-440 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent by 2030.

The transport sector is the most rapidly growing source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and its continued growth is expected to have an increasing impact on biodiversity, air quality, land resources and water quality. It accounts for 13% of emissions in the country, with road transport responsible for 91.2% of that. 

The National Taxi Alliance (NTA) is of the view that this switch to a green public transport system in South Africa is a pipe dream that has more barriers than possibilities, unless a drastic changes occur. 

“The whole concept of electric vehicles is a lovely concept only if you have a constant and regular supply of electricity, which in this country is a rare commodity,” said NTA spokesperson Theo Malele.

Malele’s argument is that there are still a high number of internal combustion engine (ice) vehicles that are still on private-seller’s floors and in manufacturing plants.

“The taxi industry lacks support from government in terms of subsidies. Due to this operators may be forced to purchase after market spares to try and stay in business…the kind of taxis on the road tell a lot of stories around this after-market spares industry,” he said.

Malele believes the other issue is that South Africa does not have the cleanest of fuels; which contributes immensely to the carbon footprint.

He advises government, to while on its path to net zero, look into investing in extreme fuel treatment (Xft) as an immediate solution to minimize emissions, as they are known to produce less detrimental carbon emissions by 33%.

The National Taxi Alliance advises government, to while on its path to net zero, look into investing in extreme fuel treatment (Xft) as an immediate solution to minimize emissions, as they are known to produce less detrimental carbon emissions by 33%. Photo: Twitter

“You need to be a wealthy person to drive an electric vehicle and yet wealthy people are far in between in the country,” said Malele.

There have been a number of policy documents around the promotion of cleaner mobility in the country including the Green Transport System (GTS) to 2050.

This strategy aims to support reductions “in the contribution of the transport sector to national greenhouse gas emissions through interventions that include local electric vehicle and battery production and roll out of solar powered charging stations; and facilitating a shift of freight from road to rail.”

It is a fact that all sectors will be affected by climate change. There are driving forces that are set to accelerate carbon neutral economies, including road transport such as; no fuel costs, reduced operations and maintenance expenses across public transport fleets.

Despite the NTA’s views the move to electric minibus taxis represents a major opportunity for the country’s transport sector to reduce its carbon footprint and transition to a more sustainable future.

The local production of EV’s has great potential for the country’s economy considering that 60% of internal combustion vehicles are exported to Europe.

Taxi operators are worried that there may not be enough electricity charging points for their minibuses especially given SA’s power generation challenges.

“South Africa has to decarbonize very fast to maintain our access to the global market,” said Senior Economist at Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS) Gaylor Montmasson-Clair.

“What we export is very dirty in terms of carbon content and that is problematic as countries are implementing carbon taxes at their borders,” emphasized Montmasson-Clair.

Europe will fully implement this by 2026 and countries like Germany and UK are set to follow suit.

During his State of the Nation Address, last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that a percentage of the R1.5 trillion allocated to the Just Energy Transition Plan would go towards electric vehicles and other new economies.

Montmasson-Clair has highlighted that it’s pivotal for all powers that drive the Just transition to engage people from all walks of life meaningfully.

“So you have to ensure people bring their own evidence and their own stories to engage with the material and the process needs to be transparent but often it’s not.

There are some key moments in policy decisions that really have to be discussed and agreed upon and I think that’s really important,” he concluded.

The country has set six climate targets including plans that to achieve mitigation, it will increase investment in hybrid vehicles 20% by 2030, and plans to contribute to national emission reductions and other environmental impacts from the transport sector by 5% by 2050.

South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) Public Relations Officer in the Western Cape, Makhosandile Tumana, said even though there is still not enough information readily available around the idea of a green taxi industry, they are open to a fair transition.

“If a taxi has a capacity of 15 passengers that means 15 private vehicles are removed on the road during peak hours. In a way, that will contribute to the reduction of the carbon emissions.

“We would also be very grateful if we can get a demo so that we can get more information about these vehicles,” expressed Tumana.

He thinks that should e-taxis be implemented, this would result in more take home profit as currently drivers spend roughly R800 daily on fuel.

“Another challenge would be charging points around the country. Mechanics available now are accustomed to fuel combustion engines and the new electric technology would be unfamiliar to them,” Tumana said.

Tumana said operators are open to testing out a demo version to better understand the practicalities of a sustainable green minibus industry.

At the moment the South African market has electric – powered buses in Cape Town, Mpumalanga and the latest addition being that offered by the University of Johannesburg.

The reported lifespan of these buses is estimated to be around 15 years, making them a sustainable and long-lasting investment. The charging time is around six hours, which allows the bus to cover a distance of 350 km.

While luxury car brands such as BMW, Jaguar, Volvo and Audi offer high-priced electric models to the SA market, the availability of such electric-powered buses offers a more affordable option for the general public.

Mercedes-Benz has plans to release its electric powered minibus eSprinter, which will hit the country’s market in early 2024.

Time will tell whether the taxi industry will be able to overcome its mixed emotions and embrace this new era of clean energy transportation. – Mukurukuru Media

*This story was produced with support from Internews Earth Journalism Network.

One Comment

  1. Bruce Garvie Bruce Garvie 24/02/2023

    I read with interest your article which mentioned Xtreme Fuel Treatment XFT. My company, Metered Fuels is the exclusive distributor for XFT in Sub Saharan Africa. I would like to discuss the other many cost saving benefits XFT offers.

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