Costly fuel gives electric buses a liftTuesday November 08 2022
Silent. Smooth rolling with no gears being shifted. USB charging port for every passenger. Wi-Fi on board. Door operated by the driver.
That is how a ride in the new electric buses has been as the trial phase comes to an end. BasiGo, an e-mobility firm, deployed two electric buses that have been run by East Shuttle and CitiHoppa – for a pilot phase from March to test if they can compete in the cut-throat environment that is public transport in Nairobi.
But from November 1, the two matatu saccos (route-based transport cooperative societies) entered the commercial phase, where they are now in a leasing arrangement with BasiGo.
One of the 25-seater electric buses is selling for Sh5 million. On top of that, you will pay a subscription fee of Sh20 per kilometre to cater for charging infrastructure and maintenance.
They provide the charging systems to ensure everything works with their specifications, and that enables them to give a warranty for the bus battery over eight years or 600,000 kilometres of mileage, whichever comes first. It requires two hours to fully charge its battery in fast-charge mode and four hours in slow-charge mode. A bus can go for up to 250 kilometres when the battery is fully charged.
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BasiGo says it now has 15 orders from leading saccos in Nairobi to provide 25-seater buses like the ones that have been operating in the city, and the buses will be leaving China for Kenya this week and may hit the road by January.
Moses Nderitu, the chief revenue officer at BasiGo, said one of the challenges experienced during the testing phase was that the buses, which are made in China, are too low for Kenyan roads that have bumps of all manner of shapes and sizes. New models, he said, will be raised higher.
"We don't have a standard size of bumps in Kenya,” he said. “On the Nairobi Expressway, there are international-size bumps. Elsewhere, bumps are installed anyhow. Then there are potholes.”
Data from BasiGo show that in the pilot phase between March and October, the two buses covered 110,000 kilometres and carried more than 130,000 passengers. If these were diesel-powered vehicles, it says, 20,800 litres of diesel would have been used during the commutes.
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“The best result, and the most important for us, is that passengers love the bus. And if passengers love the bus, the operators also love it,” said Mr Nderitu.
“Everything we wanted to validate on the pilot, we were able to validate, for example, uptime. We have had 98 percent uptime. That means the bus was available 98 percent of the time. So, in seven months, how many breakdowns did we have? Hardly any. And what are we stopping for in terms of service? Only routine service.”
Nairobi residents are set to witness more electricity-powered buses after another provider, Roam Company, launched a rapid transport bus in late October. It can carry 77 passengers at a go.
Mr Nderitu said that because BasiGo was a pioneer in the field, it took many months of testing before the buses could carry passengers. Between January and March, the buses were being driven with 50-kilo sandbags to test the carrying capacity of the vehicles.
“We were doing a proper validation ourselves because these were the first two electric buses that were going to carry passengers,” said Mr Nderitu.
A serial entrepreneur, Mr Nderitu has been involved in several ventures in Kenya, among them the company that produced the 1990s Omo Pick-a-Box game show, the Excloosive company that introduced portable toilets and Koto Housing for prefabricated technology.
“I think we give matatu a bad name. You’d imagine that matatu owners are not interested in technology. I have found that they are actually very attuned to the new technologies that are coming up and they also don’t want to be left behind. I have sat where a Sacco leader or chairman has said, 'We know that electric is the future and we do not want to be left behind,’” said Mr Nderitu.
Mr Nderitu said that all calculations show that electric is cheaper than diesel.
“Pay-as-you-drive is not much different from what is currently happening. Because today, if you don’t fuel your vehicle, you cannot drive it. If you assume a vehicle runs 300km a day and they are paying Sh20 as pay-as-you-drive, your cost of energy to do the 300km will be Sh6,000. Remember, my Sh6,000 is technically what we’ll call fuel. It includes service and maintenance," he said.
"We modelled our pay-as-you-drive on diesel costing Sh125 a litre. And at Sh125 a litre, we were still cheaper per kilometre; because remember my kilometres also include service."
With the interest in electric buses, BasiGo is faced with the task of increasing charging ports across the city to meet the demand.
“As those (new) buses come, we are in a race between now and when they arrive to be able to instal charging points across the city and on the routes that those buses will go,” he added.