In the busy streets of Nairobi CBD into its metro areas, a quiet revolution is underway in Kenya's public transport sector. Electric mobility is steadily gaining momentum, transforming the daily commutes of thousands.
The current state of public transport in Kenya is a tale of two extremes: a vital lifeline for millions of commuters and a source of frustration due to its inefficiency, unreliability, and environmental impact.
Fossil-fuel public service vehicles have long dominated the landscape, causing air pollution and contributing to climate change, an arguably unintended outcome, working with what is commercially available.
From the operator side, profit dominates discussions while commuters are focused on convenience and cost rank high. Unfortunately, environmental impact does not register for these two publics. At least not how one would expect.
However, the growing awareness of environmental concerns and the increasing availability of electric vehicle (EV) technology is rapidly changing the narrative.
Electric buses present a cleaner alternative, with zero emissions and reduced noise pollution. By transitioning to electric mobility at scale through public transport, we can mitigate our carbon footprint, align better with our ambitious documented global climate KPIs, and make our urban areas more livable from improved air quality.
Moreover, as the country embraces renewable energy sources, such as geothermal, solar, and wind power, the environmental benefits of electric public transport become even more pronounced.
Beyond the adoption of electric buses, there are five aspects to transforming the customer experience and revolutionising the public transport sector in Kenya, completing the loop of value:
Public awareness and participation
Engaging the public and creating awareness about the benefits of electric mobility is crucial.
Campaigns highlighting the environmental advantages, cost savings, and overall positive impact will win support and co-operation from the entire value chain.
Affordability and Incentives
While electric buses have lower operational costs in the long run, their upfront purchase cost remains a barrier for many operators. The government can incentivise the transition by offering tax breaks, subsidies, or low-interest financing options to encourage fleet electrification. Cost parity with fossil fuel alternatives will drive the shift for operators with a unit economics focus.
Robust charging infrastructure is critical to the widespread adoption of electric buses. Implementing fast-charging stations strategically along high-traffic routes and at major transport hubs will alleviate range anxiety and ensure uninterrupted services. It will also extend service into the long-distance category. Government and private sector collaborations are essential to maintain this infrastructure.
Training and skill development
Electric buses necessitate specialised maintenance and handling. Training for drivers, mechanics, and fleet operators is necessary for smooth operations, minimise downtime, and maximise the lifespan of EVs. Reskilling and upskilling has started.
Integration of technology
The digital age presents an array of possibilities to enhance the customer experience. Implementing smart ticketing, real-time tracking, and innovating around embedded finance will make public transport more convenient and attractive to users. It will also provide valuable data for optimising routes and improving overall efficiency.
By going beyond the asset that is the electric bus and addressing additional aspects of the transformation, we can usher in a new era of sustainable and customer-centric public transport.
Collaboration between the government, private sector, and citizens is essential to drive this change and create a cleaner, greener, and more efficient transportation system for Kenya's future generations. The road ahead may be challenging, but we have the opportunity to control our journey.
Njihia is the head of business and partnerships at Safiri Express, operator setting up Kenya’s first carbon-negative public transport network