With no comprehensive subway system, the constant breakdown of public buses and an underfunded commuter rail, South Africa struggles with a public transportation. It’s the reason why 69 per cent of households opt for minibus taxis that make up a network of tens of thousands of vehicles serving the entire Gauteng city region.
While the industry offers a flexible and affordable transport solution for millions of commuters across the country, multi-passenger minibuses have been plague with a violent past and use 2 to 3 billion litres of fuel per year, significantly contributing to air pollution.
South African start-up Electrotaxi seeks to improve the inefficient, unsafe and polluting minibus taxi network – first in the country and then into the rest of the African continent.
“Our goal is to retail and lease electric minibuses to taxi operators, which will be solar-powered, have the capacity for high-speed charging and provide battery swapping stations,” said Ewan Bloomfield, the company’s co-founder and business director who is joined by Technical Director Dr, Sam Duby and Finance Director Kumbirai Makanza.
Bloomfield and Duby were selected from an application pool of nearly 700 start-ups who participated in the Africa ClimAccelerator – first pan-African accelerator focused on scaling the most promising climate-focused innovations.
Electrotaxi will operate electric minibus taxis that are similar in size and capacity to current taxis in use, but they will be more modern and offer better performance through improved operations and handling, as well as provide enhanced safety features for both the drivers and passengers.
The electric minibus taxis will use interchangeable batteries to extend the amount of time the vehicles can be used – a useful feature for rush hour traffic. The taxis will also have fast-charging capabilities to reduce the time required at recharging hubs. What differentiates Electrotaxi from other electronic vehicles (EVs) used in the industry is its alternative fuel source: solar power. This allows the taxis to remain on the road if power is rationed or erratic.
“We will ensure that our electric, solar-powered minibus taxis run efficiently and effectively through the development of a data platform that will collect information of all journeys, allow route optimisation, offer incentives to promote safe driving and track battery usage. Our customer app will also enable clients to choose a taxi, rate the driver and the vehicle, and will also have a panic button for added safety,” said Bloomfield.
Electrotaxi aims to replace over 200,000 fossil-fuel powered minibus taxis currently in operation in South Africa, and then expand into other African countries by providing vehicles powered by renewable solar energy.
The company is developing a leasing model that will reduce the transport costs for passengers as well as saving taxi operators between 10 to 20 per cent of the lease cost. Taxi operators or investors who opt for the lease-to-own method will pay for the vehicles on a monthly basis and the payment will include charging of the vehicles, insurance and maintenance.
Founded in 2020, the company currently has three full-time staff members with operations in Cape Town. The team has extensive experience in supporting the business development of energy companies throughout Africa as well as founding and scaling up award-winning ‘Internet of Things’ and renewable energy start-ups. This experience will prove vital in the expansion of Electrotaxi.
“We aim to electrify 1,000 minibus taxis or 0.5 per cent of all minibus taxis in South Africa within the next 3 years. This goal will result in significant savings for both taxi operators and passengers, as well as make commuting safer for the environment,” said Bloomfield.
The Africa ClimAccelerator was designed to enhance the development and deployment of innovative technology to accelerate climate-positive business solutions for a net-zero Africa. From January to June 2022, programme was delivered by partner organisations GrowthAfrica and the Carbon Trust, supported by the Climate-KIC International Foundation and funded by the German Corporation for International Cooperation GmbH (‘GIZ’) exclusively on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (‘BMZ’).
An original version of this article was published here on 26 April.