Electric taxis: A complicated process

Electric taxis: A complicated process

There are many economic and environmental benefits to seeing the South African taxi industry move towards electric vehicles. But achieving that would mean dealing with a complex web of issues, a new paper notes.

South Africa’s minibus-taxi industry is a key part of the country’s economy, providing affordable, accessible mass transport. At the same time, the taxi fleet uses carbon-emitting internal combustion engines. Reducing South Africa’s environmental impact must consider the electrification of the minibus-taxi sector.

However, this is a complex process, and electrification will introduce many challenges. A paper to be presented at the forthcoming Southern African Transport Conference (SATC) outlines some key considerations.

The conference addresses the theme, ”Upskilling and reskilling the transport industry for current and future challenges”. The analysis of prospects for an electrified taxi industry underscores the importance of electric-vehicle upskilling in the Southern African transport sector.

South Africa’s minibus taxi industry is the main mode of transport for approximately 10.7 million citizens. Presently, there are approximately 250 000 to 300 000 minibus taxis in the country, belonging to an estimated 20 000 owners and 1 200 taxi associations.

Environmental impacts

In 2022, 14% of all new cars sold worldwide were electric vehicles (EVs), while in South Africa only 0.1% of vehicles sold in the same period were electric. This is an issue from an environmental and economic standpoint, as the transport industry is responsible for 20% of total carbon emissions and it is the third-highest contributor to air pollution in the country.

For the electric-taxi transition to have optimal environmental benefits, it would have to coincide with a move to a cleaner national energy mix incorporating more renewables. Currently, Eskom provides the bulk of the country’s energy, with 79% coming from coal-fired power stations.

With South Africa lagging in terms of electric vehicle adoption, the paper’s authors, A Jahur, MJWA Vanderschuren and MJ Booysen, write that “stronger efforts are required to ensure the country’s automotive industry transitions to electric mobility”.

They say that, considering the importance of minibus taxis to South African paratransit, our EV transition must prioritise minibus taxi electrification. Complicating this transition are complex web of factors.

Mobility operations

Currently, minibus taxi travel is loosely scheduled and timetabled. Taxis with licences for specific routes aim to complete trips at particular parts of the day, with day-to-day operations dependent on passenger demand.

There is flexibility, and drivers pick up or drop off passengers at sub-destinations depending on their needs. However, for electric vehicles, where ranges and charging locations are limited, more formal schedules and timetables will likely be required.

The paper suggests that taxi owners and associations work with government, and technical experts, to decide how taxis will balance charging schedules with daily trip planning. Local politics will also play a role, in terms of routes and relations between taxi associations.

Charging operations

As of September 2023, there were more than 2 200 registered electric vehicles and approximately 435 total charging stations in South Africa, with these numbers growing steadily. To accommodate the country’s entire network of minibus taxis, a significantly greater number of stations would be required.

Currently, South Africa’s charging infrastructure is funded by the private sector. However, building a charging network for the minibus taxi industry would almost certainly be out of reach for private enterprise alone. The authors recommend that government and/or international funding agencies be involved if the business case for electric minibus taxis can be proven.

Cost impact

There are significant cost differences between the petrol minibus taxis currently used and their equivalent electric counterparts. A new Toyota Hi-Ace Ses’fikile 2.5D 16-seater petrol minibus taxi currently costs around R543 900, while the World Bank puts the cost of an electric minibus taxi at approximately R830 000 before shipping and import duties.

“South Africa’s minibus taxi industry must investigate options for producing electric taxis locally to minimise capital costs,” the authors write.

It is also possible to cost-effectively retrofit existing ICE minibus taxis with an electric battery, motor, and other components, which could make it more practical to electrify fleets.

Range factors

Battery capacity and the associated range achievable on a single charge have been some of the key limitations of electric vehicles.

Optimal operational planning will be required to maximise the number of trips electric minibus taxis can complete without recharging, while integrated battery swopping can be used to enhance efficiency at charging stations.

Even optimistically assuming a taxi would have a 100kWh battery, this implies only 200km of range. Current ICE taxis have a range of 500km+ on a full tank. This highlights the need to ensure ranges are maximised through efficient driving, if electric taxis are to complete all daily trips. Studies show, for instance, that aggressive driving consumes more energy.

The authors recommend that further research be conducted into the social aspects of electrifying the minibus taxi industry, and note that regulation will affect its success.

Electrification of the critical South African taxi industry is necessarily a complex process, and the authors recommend that role players consider the various factors as “cogs in one big wheel of electrification instead of individual problems that must be solved independently”.

  • The Southern African Transport Conference takes place at the CSIR International Convention Centre, Pretoria, from July 8 – 11, with the theme “Upskilling and reskilling the transport industry for current and future challenges”.


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