Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula believes that electric vehicles are the future of transport in South Africa, going so far as to say he’d swop to one immediately if he could, writes Gideon Treurnich, Strategic Business Development Manager: Transport and Planning in South Africa, at Royal HaskoningDHV.

In his address at the launch of a new electric vehicle charging station recently, Min Mbalula noted that new technology, such as that used in electric vehicles, has the potential to improve the quality of transport services, attract new customers, and increase the disposable income for households that use public transport.

This is particularly relevant in light of recent  petrol price increases, which hit the poorest of the poor the hardest.

Sixty-nine percent of South African households use taxis, and many South Africans spend nearly half their income on taxi fares, with already-tight budgets being stretched closer to breaking point with every fuel price hike.

The soaring fuel price is the most important reason to convert the taxi industry into one powered by electric vehicles (EVs), which are not nice-to-haves for the rich and eco-conscious, but are a practical solution that could make public transport more affordable for the poor, stimulate economic growth, and reduce our country’s environmental footprint. Here’s why:

  1. Electric vehicles are cheaper to run, with a full charge costing as little as 10% of what petrol costs. This means that, for the price of a single tank of petrol, you could charge the battery more than six times, driving for 200km per charge.
  2. Battery electric vehicles are cheaper to maintain, because they have fewer moving parts. The current lifespan of an EV battery is around eight years – and this is likely to extend as technology develops. This means that vehicle owners spend less on maintenance, with this saving passed on to passengers.
  3. They’re an economic opportunity waiting to be exploited, as there’s currently no suitable EV minibus taxi on the roads yet. The time is ripe for the local design and development of an electric minibus taxi that responds directly to South Africa’s unique needs. Battery charging solutions are also an untapped market for energy entrepreneurs.
  4. EVs don’t emit carbon monoxide, which means that they’ll contribute to reducing greenhouse gases and pollution, both of which affect poor communities the most.
  5. EVs are safer because they have a lower centre of gravity than petrol vehicles, which makes them less likely to roll over in an accident, helping to reduce South Africa’s appalling road-death statistics. They also have internet-connected features, which reduces emergency response times.

Electric vehicles are still subject to irrationally high import taxes, high battery prices and the phenomenon of ‘range anxiety’ – a fear that a vehicle has insufficient range to reach its destination and would leave passengers stranded.

However, as demand increases, prices of vehicles and batteries will decrease, the number of charging stations and solutions will increase, and Government will be compelled to lower import taxes. The transition is inevitable, but we need to start planning now so that we don’t leave those who deserve better transport stranded.

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