Joburg electric vehicle initiative readies for e-buses, e-taxis

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 25 Mar 2021

The City of Joburg (COJ) is preparing the initial phase of the Electric Vehicle Readiness Support Programme, which will see the city and its partners pave the way for electric vehicles (EVs), and the arrival of electric buses and e-taxis.

The initiative, which forms part of the COJ’s Integrated Development Plan, aims to make the case for EV-related business models, with a particular focus on assessing the feasibility of e-taxis, e-buses and solar-powered EV charging stations across the city.

It is run by the COJ and several partners, including non-profit organisation Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA), the South African Local Government Association and City Power.

Earlier this month, the initiative was awarded multimillion-rand funding by the UK’s Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions programme, as part of its global commitment to climate change mitigation initiatives.

As part of its low carbon and clean energy vision, SEA has proposed a wide-scale rollout of EVs to wean SA’s public transport system off fossil fuels and onto renewables.

Following the funding, SEA has outlined plans to commence with research into the project – a major initiative forecast to save the transport industry millions of rands due to long-term cheaper maintenance costs of EVs, affordable operating costs, improved safety and avoiding the constant petrol hikes, while meeting SA’s greener mobility goals.

“While electric mobility is still in its infancy in SA, a global transition to EVs is under way, with most automobile manufacturers including EVs in their planning on future production and sales, and some countries and cities (including markets for South African vehicle exports) declaring bans on conventional fossil fuel vehicles within the next decade,” says a SEA spokesperson.

“In SA, EVs could contribute towards a sizeable greenhouse gas emission reduction in the transport sector, as road transport is responsible for over 90% of all transport emissions. A thriving EV market, supported by local manufacturing, holds the promise of economic growth and job-creation, counteracting the inevitable decline in demand for internal combustion engine vehicles globally.”

SA is running multiple nationwide EV programmes, which form part of its Green Transport Strategy 2050, introduced by the Department of Transport in 2019 to ramp up the transition towards EVs and low-carbon mobility, while boosting economic growth and creating jobs.

Unlike its international counterparts, SA’s commuter transport services are not subsidised by government, resulting in commuters absorbing the fare increases.

The long-term vision of the EV Readiness Support Programme, according to SEA, is to build the capacity for the City of Johannesburg to be EV-ready and in turn implement the rollout of e-taxis, e-buses and the deployment of charging infrastructure throughout the city.

The Rea Vaya bus rapid transit system and the Gautrain are also candidates of the project.

The Gautrain Management Agency has set aside an estimated R1.1 billion towards the Gautrain Smart Mobility project, which will see the introduction of electric buses, as part of this project.

“EV-readiness requires a deep understanding of the technical abilities of the COJ to plan for an EV future in terms of the provision of infrastructure and the setting of fair yet attractive tariffs. Therefore, planning for EV uptake within the city requires careful consideration of the technical components of the grid and the business of selling electricity. It also requires the city to determine the applicability of EVs for different vehicles and end-uses,” says the SEA spokesperson.

With an emphasis on gender equality and social inclusion, the EV programme seeks to make the case for EV-related business models the city can support.

As the EV sector is a highly technical, new and rapidly-evolving space, planning requires bringing together several departments to work together.

“Therefore, the project teams will be working with the key stakeholders to ensure all parties have a common vision and are equipped with the fundamental knowledge required to have productive planning discussions and understand the trade-offs and constraints each group faces,” notes SEA.

Is SA ready?

Governments across the globe have been introducing various policies to accelerate and promote the use of zero-emissions vehicles, which includes exemption from purchase and import taxes, exemption from VAT on discounted toll and parking fees, and access to bus lanes for EVs.

France, Germany and the UK all offer generous incentives for citizens who buy EVs.

The UK government has stipulated that 60% of all cars and small vans need to be electric vehicles by 2032 and completely carbon-free by 2035. The EU has set targets to have at least one million public charging points for EVs by 2024, and three million by 2029.

Industry pundits have long highlighted the challenges of a wide-scale rollout of electric cars in SA – a market with significant economic and social challenges, increasing power prices and power supply constraints, EV affordability and high tax import tariffs.

While SA's adoption of EVs is gaining traction, a report compiled by AutoTrader found South Africans are still a long way off on wide-scale EV adoption.

“Although there is demand for EVs from South African customers, the high prices are the biggest hurdle for the consumer. EVs in South Africa have had the added disadvantage of incurring substantial taxes – with ICE imports at 18% vs EV imports at 25%, which aided in driving the cost of an EV to more than double that of the average price of a new ICE vehicle in SA,” notes the report.

The Department of Trade and Industry is in talks with the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers and local car manufacturers on providing support for import and local production of electric and hybrid vehicles in SA, to create a healthy environment for the rollout of EVs in the country.