Kenya is driving the sustainable transport agenda

Often known for its chaotic, congested streets, downtown Nairobi is the site of several pioneering experiments in electrified public transport. From February, Nairobi-based electric vehicle (EV) and finance company BasiGo will trial two electric buses on public transport providers, providing a model for how Kenya can transition to an electrified and sustainable transport future.

The e-mobility startup, which launched last November, plans to bring over 1,000 25- and 36-seat electric buses to Kenya over the next five years for bus operators to buy.

The buses will be sourced from BYD Auto, the world’s largest manufacturer of electric buses, and although the pilot buses were entirely imported, the ultimate goal is for BasiGo buses to be assembled locally.

“We have partnered with two different public vehicle operators in Nairobi for our pilot program,” said Jit Bhattacharya, CEO and co-founder of BasiGo.

“Following our pilot project, we will offer electric buses to all owners, savings and credit unions and businesses that currently operate city buses in Kenya. Until now, diesel buses have been the only technology option for bus operators in Nairobi. We want to help all PSV operators reap the economic and reliable benefits of electric buses.”

BasiGo has raised approximately $1 million in pre-seed funding to date, which it will use to demonstrate the feasibility of the electric bus model.

“In parallel with the start of our pilot project, we will also be accepting reservations for our first sale of electric buses exclusively to operators in Nairobi. These buses will be delivered to customers by the end of the year,” adds Bhattacharya.

Greater affordability

BasiGo says bus owners can buy an electric bus for the same initial cost as a diesel bus of the same size. They also intend to improve affordability through a financing model that allows operators to pay for the battery and charging separately through a pay-as-you-go financing arrangement.

“Bus owners then pay BasiGo a ‘pay-as-you-drive’ subscription based on the daily kilometers driven. This subscription covers all charging and maintenance work at the BasiGo depots, as well as e-bus battery rental,” says Bhattacharya.

The buses are designed to go 250 km on a single charge, so they can go all day without recharging. The operators bring the e-bus back to a BasiGo-owned and operated charging depot every night, where they are also serviced.

The company says it chose Kenya as its location because the country is a world leader in green energy, with over 90% of all electricity generated by the country coming from renewable sources such as hydro, geothermal, solar and wind. The Kenya Power and Lighting Company currently has a surplus of clean, renewable energy on the power grid, especially at night, making Nairobi an ideal location for the pilot.

combating air pollution

Privately owned buses and minibuses known as matate, which accounts for about 40% of all journeys in Nairobi, remain one of the most important means of transport in Kenya and many African cities.

But their diesel engines are a major source of urban air pollution, classified by the World Health Organization as one of the top environmental threats to human health, and are responsible for greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

In Kenya, the electric buses could produce 95% less CO2 -Emissions as most of the country’s electricity comes from renewable sources such as hydroelectric and geothermal. The price of running a vehicle – currently subject to the vagaries of the fuel market – could become more predictable.

“For years, diesel-powered buses have been the only viable solution for bus operators in Kenya. We are excited to offer public transport operators a new option: state-of-the-art electric buses that are more affordable, more reliable and less subject to bus operators from the rising cost of diesel fuel,” says Bhattacharya.

Once established in Nairobi, BasiGo intends to use the data and experience gained in Nairobi to expand and roll out electric buses to other East African cities.

An expanding market

BasiGo isn’t the first EV vendor on the market. Opibus, a Swedish-Kenyan electric vehicle manufacturer, EkoRent Africa, a Finnish-Kenyan company operating an all-electric taxi call service, Ecotrify, an e-mobility infrastructure provider and installer, and Kiri EV, an electric bicycle manufacturer, all introduce themselves parallel systems for electric transport.

In December 2021, after successfully completing a pilot program, Opibus partnered with Uber to provide 3,000 electric motorcycles for African drivers by 2022. Uber’s presence in 16 African cities will allow Opibus to accelerate the mass adoption of electric vehicles across the continent, the partners say.

“The goal of working with Opibus is to simplify the use of electric motorcycles across Africa. This follows an agreement between the two parties that Opibus will deliver 3,000 electric motorcycles in 2022 to meet Uber’s demand,” the company announced in December.

According to Opibus, the Kenyan motorcycle industry is the largest single employer and is estimated to employ over 1.2 million young Kenyans. There are over 1.6 million motorcycles registered in the country, with an average of 16,500 units imported per month.

Albin Wilson, Opibus’ chief strategy and marketing officer, says Opibus deployed 150 bikes on a pilot basis to test the technology and validate the project.

“The bikes are assembled in Nairobi and designed by local engineers for the African market,” he says. Opibus is also working on rolling out electric buses, and Wilson says the company will launch 10 buses for a commercial pilot this year, after which they aim for wider rollout by 2023.

The EV manufacturer has installed 10 AC chargers and will soon install more. The company has successfully raised $7.5 million, which will be used to increase production of motorcycles and buses.

Meanwhile, EkoRent launched NopeaRide in 2018 with the aim of becoming “the continent’s first 100% electric taxi service”. The company operates a growing fleet of electric vehicles and charging stations across Nairobi and plans to add up to 100 electric vehicles to its NopeaRide fleet.

In 2021, the company received €200,000 from EEP Africa, a financing facility backed by Austria, to develop solar-powered charging stations in Nairobi for the taxi industry.

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